Some Neuroscience of Critical Thinking Education
In This Episode.
In this episode, Steve and Dave take a walk into some of the science around how the brain functions relative to learning. Beware! Discussions of “amygdalas” and “basal ganglia” may emerge. But if you want to tap into your students brain power, here is some of the research on how to do it.
Some Neuroscience of Critical Thinking Education
Steve Pearlman: All right, welcome back to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast, I am Steve Perlman.
And I’m Dave Carillo
Steve Pearlman: And we are coming to you today. Talk to you about neuroscience and the emerging results that they’re seeing and how it relates to education.
Dave Carillo: Yeah, we’re going to at least try to give you a good sense of some of the things that we’re continually trying to incorporate into our own pedagogy and our own faculty development workshops. And hopefully, you know, if you have anything to add, you can send it our way because we know there’s a lot more to learn, that’s for sure.
Steve Pearlman: And we should offer the disclaimer up front that neither David nor I or neuropsychologists, but what they’re actually studying about the brain, it’s development. What happens during learning with the brain have immediate impacts for what we’re doing on the classroom level, and it’s going to be very challenging in this podcast to communicate some of the depth and complexity of all the research we’ve seen about this because it’s such a terribly broad, yeah, subject matter. It’s kind of like, if this were vegetables today, we were talking, we’re talking about the avocado. Yeah, it’s it’s a vegetable or fruit.
Dave Carillo: That’s a good question. I have no idea. I think it’s a fruit.
Steve Pearlman: You think it’s a fruit?
Dave Carillo: You wouldn’t make a guacamole out of
Steve Pearlman: A vegetable, would you? I don’t know if I’m making a guacamole out of it, whether it has two changes, it’s
Dave Carillo: It’s the first, it’s
Steve Pearlman: The fruit or vegetable nature.
Dave Carillo: Not only does science move in increments in the ways they come to conclusions in the way they evaluate evidence. And so not only is this this broad category here that we’re trying to take on, but when you pull one piece of research or two pieces of research, you’re not necessarily dealing with foregone conclusions, especially since this is all brain stuff, and they’re just starting to figure out the best ways to look at how the brain is doing things right.
Steve Pearlman: And I think even it’s worthwhile to note that neuroscientists themselves and neuropsychologists are tentative about what it is they feel we can draw as firm conclusions about what’s happening from their work relative to what a teacher should go do in the classroom. There are some things that are certainly clearer than others, but this is by no means answering all of our questions. There’s some extrapolation always involved in this, and we also think that although there’s a science behind teaching and there’s a science behind what the brain is doing, there’s also an art to teaching and merging that art and that science together in any particular classroom for any particular subject is certainly a challenge for any any teacher.
Dave Carillo: Oh yeah, absolutely. You know, it occurs to me now that I’ve got all these articles in front of me, they’re not really talking about what to do in the classroom. So like, like you said, like, there are these sorts of extrapolations we’re making and we’re making some leaps here and there. And I actually think that’s both exciting. And I hope, you know, our listeners find that as exciting as we do and not necessarily as frustrating, but
Steve Pearlman: Well, you know, it’s like we have all this. We have this tremendous amount of emerging research about the human brain development and what’s happening in the classroom. But then when you have a fifty minute class to teach a particular subject matter every day already in an institutional structure of certain kinds with requirements being put upon us, yeah, it’s it’s hard to make the connections regardless of how much we prepare for this. But I do think that everyone is going to find this very interesting. I think some of this is the most fascinating work that is being done right now.
Dave Carillo: So I’m going to jump in. Yeah, please do.
Steve Pearlman: All right. So I want to make four points here, and then I’m going to build on each of them just a little bit as we go forward about what we’re seeing from the brain and what we’re seeing moving forward. And really, even before I get into those four points, well, we should mention is that one of the most important discoveries coming out of neuropsychology right now is the idea of neuroplasticity, which is simply that the brain is constantly developing itself. New neural pathways are always being made, so the notion that the brain is done developing by the time we’re twenty five is only true to the extent that major the major brain structures develop over that time period. But it does not mean that the brain stops building new neural pathways. And this idea of neuroplasticity is critical for us as educators to embrace this in realizing that educational experiences are wiring the brain. So as students are going through elementary school and middle school and high school, their brains are getting wired in certain ways based on the experiences that they’re having educationally. But perhaps more importantly, wherever you are on the educational timeline, we can rewire the brain and the implications for that are twofold. One, of course, is that we can change the brain so that students learn different skills that they don’t have yet.
Steve Pearlman: But second, and more importantly, perhaps I think we have to keep in mind as educators that when we are teaching somebody, we are actually asking them to rewire their brain. And that can take some time, especially if we’re introducing new kinds of experiences to them and the academic construct, like if we are asked. For a critical thinking act that hasn’t been there before. We’re in a very real sense demanding a change of brain structure, which is great and it’s important, but you know, those changes in brain structure can take a little time. They’re worthwhile, but they can take a little time. So I even tell this to my students. I even say to them, Look, as you’re coming into my first year of writing course, please realize that as you’re learning some new skill sets, as new things are being demanded of you and expected of you, it’s going to take a little while for your brain to actually rewire around some of the things that we’re doing. And that’s great because it takes a little bit of the pressure off of them, in fact, to feel as though that they need to get it immediately and that they can’t have a little room for growth.
Dave Carillo: I was just telling my students that exact same thing today in the writing workshop that we ran and I told them, Look, I didn’t expect you to do well in the beginning. You were going to have some lousy grades, but that’s why I don’t count those grades. That’s why I just want you to continue to try to master this process because it’s going to take a while to wrap your
Steve Pearlman: Brains around the next podcast or an upcoming podcast. We’ll talk about some of the pedagogical ways to allow for that brain growth more than we will today,
Dave Carillo: As we were talking about wasn’t broad strokes measures we can definitely bring to the to the folks out there that I think will work for them.
Steve Pearlman: All right. So getting into four key things I think everyone should know about how the brain works relative to learning. I’m going to first refer to natural learning for a connected world by Kane and Kane to Kane’s wrote this This is a very Kane book.
Dave Carillo: It’s a partner and partner authorship. Is that it? Yeah, excellent.
Steve Pearlman: First quote The search for meaning occurs through patterning. Every human being is born with a drive to make sense of experience, and they call it the explanatory drive. Second quote Cognition is emotional. Among the many factors that influence meaning making is the fact that cognition is affected by emotions and quote third quote the brain minus is social end quote. And then to finish this out, I’m going to go to sourcebook mind brain education. And he says, quote movement enhances learning and memory, the typical classroom setting in which students sit and get what is challenged by the research findings showing that the brain is more active when learners are moving around. And I’m going to actually start on that one because there’s been some amazing research on the connection between mind and body. And the fact is that our conception of the mind body separation that was more popular when I was younger is being completely blown out of the water. The there’s findings that gut bacteria are affecting depression. In fact, there was a study done and I’m recalling it now. I don’t have it in front of me, so perhaps I’ll have to go back and get it at some time. So I might not have every aspect of this perfect. But they found that some different intellectual skills are tied to certain elements of how we develop physically, such that they surveyed people who had trouble with a particular kind of math. I think it was algebra, but I’m not sure they surveyed them to find out different things about their childhood. And what they found was that these people all had not crawled when they were kids. Interesting. Is that interesting? Yeah. And now here’s where it gets freakier. Not only had they not crawled when they were kids, but when they had them crawl, their math skills improved because they went back and crawled like they were supposed to have as kids is freaky. Isn’t that weird? Yeah. So anyway,
Dave Carillo: Let’s let’s get that study. I want to take a look at that. It would take me years of crawling to beef up my math skills.
Steve Pearlman: Well, it’s relative your scale. Your skills might improve a little bit. Yeah, from a little crawling and then you might need to crawl like marathons. I would need to learn math. Yes, I would need to crawl marathons. I think I would, too. But there’s a lot more research on this. Stephen Hughes has done some great research on this, and there are other neuropsychologist who are really showing that movement is absolutely integral to our learning process. And I’m not talking about this with respect to the breakdown of learners as auditory, visual or kinesthetic,
Dave Carillo: And this kind of thing is different.
Steve Pearlman: Yeah, those distinctions don’t really those categories don’t really exist in supported research, but I am talking about this in terms of the importance of being able to be physical at the same time as one is learning. And if we think about it right throughout most of evolutionary history, there is no reason that children would have been learning things while they were simply sitting down on the floor or sitting in a desk. In fact, most of the things they would have had to learn would have been active things. So what they’re finding is that the brain is really tied to movement, and that muscle movement actually plays a role in the acquisition of intellectual material. What’s the implication for for the classroom? It’s more difficult to understand that, but I think that there might be value in encouraging. Students to be able to move around a classroom as they work on different projects and get up out of the desks when possible, get up out of the chairs when possible as they learn the different things that they’re trying to get acquired for the class. And that’s possible to different degrees, of course, but it seems like something that’s very important. And I’ll just add this one more thing. And then the notion of students who are sort of antsy in class and can’t sit still. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe they should be up and moving around. And part of that issue for them is simply that they’re confined to a desk, and that’s an unnatural experience for them in terms of how to learn they’re more connected with that need to move around in order to acquire
Dave Carillo: Information, whether we can really track out all the implications to this. And you know, it seems like an easy thing to be able to integrate into the classroom. All students are sort of forcibly taught to eventually sit still, and they find different ways to be bored and let anxious and sort of take over. And as they move through, everybody becomes a lot more acclimated to sitting at a desk and sitting still. And whether they’re learning anything in the process, that’s, you know, that’s that’s not necessarily the issue. You can see how quickly all kids become very much acclimated to that kind of stillness.
Steve Pearlman: So let me jump off of that and go back now to the first of the points I wanted to make about neuroscience and quoting cane and cane again quote. The search for meaning occurs through patterning. Every human is born with a drive to make sense of experience. So let me give you an example of what they found with this, which is amazing and how powerful it is the process of meaning making. So we have something called the amygdala, which sort of regulates the flow of information through our brain based on our stress response, our fear. Or have you and the amygdala can either drive the lower brain to think more, which is more of the emotional, reactive brain fight, flight or freeze kind of response? Or it can channel energy and and information into the prefrontal cortex, which does most of our higher order thinking. Well, what’s really interesting is that there’s something also called the basal ganglia, which is where dopamine is released and dopamine gives us pleasure. So if we have learning where the basal ganglia doesn’t get involved, we don’t have pleasure in that learning. If we have learning where the basal ganglia does get involved, then we have pleasure in that learning. We get a dopamine drop. And I think there was a study done to this effect. Let’s say you were going to sit in class and you had to memorize a bunch of information, OK? In memorization, what they find is that there is low activity in the basal ganglia or no activity in the basal ganglia, kind of. So you’re not getting a dopamine drop, sure, merely from memorizing certain bits of information or hearing the lecture, necessarily. But if they ask students to make meaning out of that in that make sense of it, write a paragraph that explains it, relate it to something in their personal lives. As soon as meaning making starts to occur, the dopamine drops. I say that my dopamine dropping me there. There’s a release of dopamine and the students enjoy the learning process more.
Dave Carillo: First of all, I mean, I think that’s what’s so fascinating about this is that I can’t tell you how many different books, how many different colleagues have you know that I’ve read or how many colleagues that have discussed who are all sort of striving for students to make meaning of what they’re reading, make meaning of their sources and so on and so forth. And it’s interesting to see that idea pop up again, only this time in terms of these chemical production and how we’ve been able to track that out and how it works in the brain. But it does make sense. I mean, once we make that meaningful connection to something, it does feel good. We feel like a sense of accomplishment and that, you know, there’s this neurochemical component.
Steve Pearlman: In fact, let me talk about the speaking brain by Diane Williams. Let me talk about a way that explains this and gives an excellent example of this. In fact, she writes quote So when a child is listening to the teacher explain a historical event, he or she is not simply using left hemisphere language areas. The child is using a large network that includes brain areas on both left and right sides of the brain. The more challenging the task, for example, because it includes abstract language or requires a lot of inferencing or filling in the blanks, the more areas of the brain are needed. I love that. So as we ask students to do more to make sense of things, the brain in fact becomes more active.
Dave Carillo: Yeah. And you know that in and of itself, like just sets off a lot of alarms for me and was I can’t remember if we had mentioned some of the research into, I think we did in our first podcast, we were talking about the fractures. And one of them was assignment. And what was the percentage? Almost sixty six percent of the writing assignments and. Studies asked for simple reporting or summarizing right, and to hear, you know, to hear you read that passage and to to bring it back and make that kind of connection to the kind of other research that we’re seeing is just it’s eye-opening, really.
Steve Pearlman: And let me build off of that and talk about the next point that I had touched on earlier, which is quote, cognition is emotional. Among the many factors that influence meaning making is the fact that cognition is affected by emotions. And let me explain what that means a little bit. When students are experiencing stress, the amygdala diverts energy away from the prefrontal cortex, and therefore the higher brain functions are not as in use. And there has been some powerful research around this. And this is even when students don’t necessarily know they’re under stress. But when they’re experiencing heightened heart rate or sweaty or palms, they’re being studied through MRI work or palm sensors or what have you. It’s actually harder for them to think than it is when they are calm and relaxed. And what the brain wants with the when the students learn best is when the student is in control of the learning experience. And this is why we have to have a podcast soon talking about some mastery models and so forth. Yeah, absolutely. But control for the student doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re succeeding. Control doesn’t mean that there’s not a challenge. What control means is that the student is given agency to take some ownership of how things are being studied, the time frames for which things are being studied, the kinds of meanings that are being made out of things. That’s very important. All of those things matter a great deal with respect to the emotional centeredness of the learner. The message here isn’t that students just have to be happy all the time to be learners.
Steve Pearlman: It doesn’t mean that we can’t put strong requirements on them. It doesn’t mean that we have to be joking around in our classes, which some research actually shows can distract students from ownership of the material or agency, or just even from learning. It just means that we have to afford students some sense of agency and how the learning is going to be approached and the ability to make some meaning from that. So reading here from the current impact of Neuroscience on Teaching and Learning by Judy Willis quote neuroimaging studies show how stress and pleasure influence the way the brain filters sensory input and the effects of such emotions on the amygdala, a gateway that sends input either to the thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, or to the lower, involuntarily reactive brain. When stress directs sensory input to the lower brain, that input is not available for higher cognitive processing. In fact, they did a study where before a standardized test, they either asked students just to sit still and quiet and get ready for the test. Or they asked another group of students to write about what it was about that pending test, the test they were going to take that was stressing them out. Students who did the 10 minute writing prior to the test actually scored better on the test than students who just sat calmly in preparation for the test. Why? Because the ability to vent about our stress and release some of that stress out allowed the prefrontal cortex to do more work during the test itself.
Dave Carillo: And that’s what I that’s what is what reverberating to me and I was going to bring this up later. But it is. It is a framework that’s mentioned in the book The Neuroscience of Learning and Development, which is edited by Marilee Ludwick and in it, the multiple authors. But they mentioned something called integrative inquiry, which is designed by Ludwig. And Integrative Inquiry, or an IQ, is a framework that incorporates multiple regulation strategies, and the two lower level regulation strategies are attention regulation and emotional regulation and what the idea of regulation is meant to describe as kind of mindfulness about that a student or anybody can achieve in terms of understanding what they’re paying attention to, how they’re feeling, regulating those feelings, regulating what they’re paying attention to and the AI and IQ makes these kinds of connections. So so for instance, the part of attention regulation that deals with focused movement or paying attention to the internal sensory experiences of breathing and emotions or other bodily sensations are going to positively affect things like the prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex and the insula. And so there are all these ways to regulate who you are, what you’re feeling, and that allows for the sort of positive feedback in the brain that can help, you know, success on that test. Critical thinking, meaning making those kinds of things.
Steve Pearlman: That’s an interesting connection. And so let me jump into the last point here, and then we can go right back to the social
Dave Carillo: Totally into the mindfulness. Yeah, no, absolutely.
Steve Pearlman: So the last point that I’m touching on here is that quote the brain. Social end quote. And that I don’t think it’s surprising that humans have evolved as social creatures and that therefore learning is tied to social interaction. What’s challenging in that is that we think of social interaction as being simply something that could be accomplished through group work in a class or having a nice group of peers with whom to work. And that’s part of it. You know, there’s a difference between sitting in one’s desk, isolated, not being able to interact with one’s peers, or even interact much with a professor just or teacher, just simply hearing information as opposed to working on a group project where you are socializing in a socialized environment with other people. But in terms of what the neuroscience is starting to reveal, it’s not really exactly about just having an educational experience that involves multiple people by social. I think it’s important for listeners to consider that it’s about having social currency. It’s about becoming a member of a community and that that’s the value that the brain finds in terms of social learning. And I guess this goes to Wenger and it goes to leave and it goes to Gee and everyone who’s talking about communities of practice and situated learning and the idea of being an apprentice and being welcomed into a community rather than just being a student or being someone who’s outside of a community.
Steve Pearlman: So the difference is that if one’s going to be a carpenter, one is studying under a carpenter and immediately starts doing things that carpenters do. Now, the first thing you might do is only just schlep wood from the truck, but that’s nevertheless contributing to the project, right? That’s contributing to the job site in a meaningful way. You’re not the master carpenter, but you’re doing something that has value and you’re becoming part of that social community. You are becoming a member of something. Contrast that against how students learn many of the subjects. I’m going to name what? I’m going to pick history as an example and no offense to historians out there. I’m I have to choose something, but they’re learning history in terms of potentially not in every class, but if they’re learning history in terms of what happened instead of thinking of themselves as apprentice historians, then they are not engaged in the social aspect of history, even if they’re doing a group project with other people, even if they’re talking about history with other people, if they’re not feeling that they’re becoming part of a social community of historians, even at a novice level, then that’s not quite activating what the brain really wants in terms of social currency for its learning.
Dave Carillo: And you can see this everywhere. You study for a midterm and then you go on to the next thing and you never, you know, do that stuff again. Maybe you’ll see it on the final, but or you attend a class and you’re lectured or told to memorize a textbook and never really engage with it in any way, shape or form? And you’re totally kept separate from that. And that strikes me is actually one of the most important things that we can take away from this. If we think about all the ways that students are kept separate from right, right down to something that we would tell faculty members in a workshop on an assessing writing right if the students are kept in the dark about what they’re being assessed about, if they’re kept in the dark, about how you’re assessing it and they’ll know never become a member of that community, they’ll never feel a part. The student will never make those emotional connections that you’ve mentioned earlier. That means so much in terms of making meaning and so on and so forth if there’s always this sort of barrier.
Steve Pearlman: I want to move right on to you now and your stuff because I think it’s fascinating. So I just want to end on this quote from zoals the art of changing the brain. And I think it just sums up nicely the things I’ve been talking about here, he says. As I noted earlier, creating new ideas has two steps short term storage of information and manipulation, or rearranging of that information to form new relationships, end quote. So that would be like the meaning making that we talked about. Continuing quote. This manipulation of information and working memory is what creates new knowledge for the learner as he organizes things in new arrangements and attaches them to the networks that represent his prior knowledge. Each learner creates his or her own understandings. The conscious, rearranging and manipulation of items in working memory comes closest to what we call thinking end quote. That’s a nice way of summing up that the combination of all these social, emotional meaning making brain functions is what the thinking process is. Ultimately, it comprises. All right. So I think that’s a nice way now that we kind of have thought about what thinking is a little bit from a from a neuropsychological perspective. Let’s look into how do we contend with that, which is kind of what you’re talking about with some of the kind
Dave Carillo: Of I’m not even sure, you know, I’m not even sure what I’m talking about anymore. But again, like, this is the tip of the iceberg. I don’t want to start necessarily with the brain. I want to start with jugglers and taxi cab drivers.
Steve Pearlman: I’m surprised it actually took for podcasts for you to bring in jugglers.
Dave Carillo: Now, do you know why I’m starting with jugglers and. Taxi cab drivers. No, I do not. All right, I think you do, though, I think you’re just being facetious, but let’s let’s start there. No, I want to start with jugglers and taxi cab drivers specifically because of neuroplasticity. Remember, you said, you know earlier that neuroplasticity is this term for for the brain’s ability to form new neural connections. And the idea of neuroplasticity is not terribly new. It’s not terribly old. It’s not terribly new, but it is much newer than the sort of age old contention that the brain is the brain and you’re born with what you’re born with and end of story. So if you can’t juggle at age six, you’re never going to be able to juggle or if you can’t do math, you’ll never be able to do math. It’s not a situation where you’re predisposed. Can you juggle? I cannot juggle. I can juggle. Can you? I can joke, Can you do the basic three? I can
Steve Pearlman: Go three. I can do some fancy tricks with three.
Dave Carillo: Can you spin them back?
Steve Pearlman: I can. But what I can’t do, as well as for I got I kind of had four. When I was really juggling, I kind of lost four, but three, I’ve got three solid.
Dave Carillo: You don’t have to show me that any time soon. The rest of this podcast you should be juggling. I guess no one would be able to see that one. What are the most well known studies of this comes about when Katherine Woollett and Eleanor McGuire studied the London taxi cab drivers. So I’ve got this. I’ve got this article here. It’s a brief reports called Acquiring the Knowledge in quotations of London’s Layout Drive Structural Brain Changes and essentially what they did here is that you have to know something about London taxi cab drivers, which is
Steve Pearlman: Like the hardest test in the world.
Dave Carillo: You can’t just become a taxi cab driver in London. You have to study, you have to acquire the knowledge over a period of four years, it says. Actually, I’ll just read in order to qualify as a licence. London Taxi Driver, a trainee must learn the complex and a regular layout of London’s more or less twenty five thousand streets within a six mile radius of Charing Cross train station, along with the locations of thousands of places of interest. And the spatial learning is known as acquiring quote the knowledge and typically takes between three and four years, leading to a stringent set of examinations called appearances, which must be passed in order to obtain the an operating licence from the public carriage of these individuals.
Steve Pearlman: I think I think in New York, the single criterion is how hard you can push the gas pedal.
Dave Carillo: I you know what? I’ll be honest, I’ve been in times in New York when that’s really all I’ve needed. So do you feel ethically OK with driving on the sidewalk? Do you know any sewers we can drive into? So will it? And Maguire set up to study what, if any, changes occurred in the brains of individuals who became London taxi cab drivers, they quote, utilize the unique opportunity to study average IQ adults operating in the real world, as they learned over four years the complex layout of London streets while training to become licensed taxi drivers in those who qualified acquisition of an internal spatial representation of London was associated with a selective increase in grey matter volume in the posterior hippocampus and kokum and changes in their memory profile. And the hippocampus is is the memory part of the brain, right? I’ll say this straight up. Steve knows much more about brain parts than I do, and I’m also fairly certain that Steve knows no parts of the brain as opposed to someone who actually studies the brain. So I don’t know where I stand, but your knowledge of the brain is much more in depth than mine. But the hippocampus is where memory memories are processed, according to this study. And this is the report. There’s a longer study, but according to the study quote, no structural brain changes were observed in trainees who failed to qualify or control participants. So they conclude that quote specific enduring structural brain changes in adult humans can be induced by biologically relevant behaviors engaging higher cognitive functions, such as spatial memory, with significance for nature versus nurture debate.
Dave Carillo: And so what are they’re saying basically is they study these taxicab drivers and they were able to show that to some extent, certain focused activities can change the brain. That’s the London taxicab drivers. So that brings us to jugglers drivers. You know, this is published by gigantic gaiser Bush Sr Bogden and May, and they were looking at whether people with no juggling experience could be put through rigorous three months of training and then measure the brain before, during and then after. And what they found is after three months of juggling training, they measured the brains of those individuals who were now fairly decent jugglers, and they found changes. Then they allowed those people who learned to juggle to stop juggling, and they measured their brains again. They scan their brains again. And lo and behold, the brains were back to something similar to the initial scan when they couldn’t juggle. And so they essentially show that if you provide individuals. With a strong framework for learning something new or different, you can effect change the brain, they say, quote our results contradict the traditionally held view that the anatomical structure of the adult human brain does not alter, except for changes in morphology caused by aging or pathological conditions.
Steve Pearlman: So help me out here. You’re saying it’s essential that everybody learns how to juggle?
Dave Carillo: What I hear you saying, Steve, is because you know how to juggle. You’re placing extra value on the juggling.
Steve Pearlman: I’m just saying my brain apparently is developed in special ways because I can juggle and yours is not.
Dave Carillo: I agree with that and I’m lousy at juggling. They do not talk about whether it’s important to learn to juggle as much as we chose juggling as a way to show that the human brain could be changed again.
Steve Pearlman: And no matter what you’re doing right, right, whatever skill set you’re adopting, it’s affecting the structure, the literal structure of the brain.
Dave Carillo: Exactly, exactly. And so those are the taxi cab drivers and the jugglers. But the move I want to make here and listeners forgive me for the sort of choppy transition into this, is that while the taxi cab drivers study showed that changes could be made to the part of the brain that deals with memory, and the juggling study showed that changes to the brain could be made in parts that dealt with sort of spatial and motor functions. There are also a lot of studies that are trying to figure out whether changes can be made parts of the brain that deal with executive functions right and critical thinking right. And there’s a lot of stuff out there. We did want to sort of bring to light some of the studies that I found that deal with this idea of mindfulness.
Steve Pearlman: Ok. It’s part of the metacognitive awareness. It’s part of the self-directed learning.
Dave Carillo: Yeah, absolutely.
Steve Pearlman: I know that the research on meditation is really impressive with respect to what it does in terms of a number of health benefits, including brain longevity as we get older, that they’re finding more and more. That meditation is just an absolutely wonderful exercise for the brain and actually slightly different kinds of meditation. Whether you’re doing TM or whether you’re doing zazen or what, have you actually affect the brain slightly differently?
Dave Carillo: Topics like I said, like, I’m fascinated by this, but at any rate, going to this review first led me to Ellen Langer from Harvard, who’s been doing a lot with mindfulness. So I want to go, Yeah, I want to go specifically to her definition. Initially, this is from a mindful education. This is nineteen ninety three quote. Mindfulness is a state of mind that results from drawing novel distinctions, examining information from new perspectives and being sensitive to context. It is an open, creative, probabilistic state of mind in which the individual might be led to finding differences among things thought similar and similarities among things thought different to be vigilant. In contrast, one has to have a particular stimulus in mind and expectation of what the stimulus is, rather than what it could be to pay attention is to pay attention to something. At the same time, something else may go unnoticed. So in this definition, she’s actually drawing a distinction between mindfulness vigilance and simply paying attention. But as you can see, right, this idea of mindfulness results from drawing novel distinctions from new perspectives and being sensitive to context, Langer is defining it this way specifically to help to combat what she and others call premature cognitive commitment.
Dave Carillo: And I wish I’d known about it earlier, but this definition is fantastic, and it speaks to literally everything we’ve spoken to in the last many podcasts. But she says the prevailing system of education lead our students to impose constancy on a potentially varying environment, right by encouraging the learning of facts irrespective to their context. We encourage stability seeking and stability seeking is related to this idea of premature cognitive commitment, which she says quote is a rigid belief that results from the mind mindless acceptance of information as true without consideration of alternative versions of that information. So in this particular article, that’s that’s the big distinction here in mindfulness, you’re paying attention to context. You’re looking for new perspectives on things. You’re being sensitive to context in the face of this other idea, which is a premature cognitive commitment. And you see that in a lot of places. You see that with, you know, the banking notion of education and freer and elsewhere.
Steve Pearlman: I don’t know if I’ve seen that those particular words from Langer, but for Mamet, they really do intersect with everything we’re talking about with respect to critical thinking, which is this multivariate perspective on the world and being able to weigh that and assess that relative to context.
Dave Carillo: It’s very powerful. It’s huge, right? It’s huge. And I love it. And the other one that I was looking at that people often cite is from Hazel Carmody Wangle, Congleton, Yarra Machete Guard and Laser. Hosa is the primary author, and I believe he’s out of Massachusetts general. Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and they were essentially taking subjects and putting them through eight weeks of mindfulness based stress reduction where they were trying to do here, though, is just to see whether this same kind of training could be applied to an effect change to the parts of the brain related to critical thinking executive function. And essentially, that’s what they found. They say quote the results suggest that participation in mindfulness based stress reduction is associated with change in gray matter concentration in brain regions and involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking. So they’re starting to find some changes in the brain as well.
Steve Pearlman: And that really brings us right back to what we were talking about earlier with respect to the importance of emotional connection, to learning the hazard of stress with respect to learning. It really cinches that into a perspective that talks about how it’s a matter of gray matter. Yeah, really. It is so nutshell for I think what you’re saying if I’m interpreting it right is that there’s not only evidence that the brain can change with respect to if we’re juggling or engaging in some other activity. But mindfulness specifically can produce important changes in the brain with respect to higher cognitive function.
Dave Carillo: Yes, that’s exactly what the science seems to be pointing. And one of the things that I think is really important about this idea that mindfulness is bringing into it is that when you are training someone to be mindful, you’re training someone to be self-reflective, to be able to think about how they’re thinking, to be able to think about what they have thought and revise that based on some kind of framework that helps them do so. That allows for that kind of changing of the mind, revising the ideas.
Steve Pearlman: And you know what that makes me think of. It’s that when we were speaking just recently with some educators and we were talking about the framework that we’ve developed and they were talking about using that framework as a metacognitive intervention for students who are engaging in disciplinary problem. Yeah, that’s the same kind of thing, right? It’s using a system, a framework to create a self-awareness about what it is that we’re doing, why we’re doing it and be able to reflect on that more thoroughly in our lives. And I think it ties all back together, which is where we started the podcast. How does the brain learn, right? What is the what is the mechanism by which neural function happens and how do we start to build off of?
Dave Carillo: Yeah. And I think that to some extent, there’s an assumption again that certainly certain students are going to get it in. Certain students aren’t. And that’s not necessarily the case, nor is it the case that simply lecturing to to students is going to have them learn anything meaningful, right or more meaningful. And I think we all want students to be able to engage intelligently with whatever disciplinary material we’ve dedicated our lives to learning ourselves. There are methods to do that so that mindfulness is one of those ways.
Steve Pearlman: All right, we’re going have a short break when we come back, we’re going to have news of the week and the
Dave Carillo: Question, are we going to do our question of the week, right?
Steve Pearlman: And we’ll let you know about special that we’re offering for the book. We know it’s that time of year where people are starting to think about maybe their classes for the spring semester, or maybe it’s a little early for that. But in advance of that, we want you if you’re ordering a book to be able to give one to a friend. So on the critical thinking initiative DAUG website, we’re offering a two for one special buy a copy of the faculty edition of the handbook. Use the code juggling and you get two for the price of one plus free shipping. Once again, use the code juggling. It won’t show at checkout that you’re going to get two books, but we will send you two and again you get free shipping, which is a pretty good deal.
Dave Carillo: That’s awesome. You know my you know and you know, my thinking about free shipping, we shipped for free. I’ll purchase nearly anything.
Steve Pearlman: But why not? Because it’s not costing you anything to get it
Dave Carillo: Exactly once you once you pay
Steve Pearlman: Exorbitant price, whatever that might
Dave Carillo: Be, the endorphins released when I hear free shipping is
Voiceover: Enough. This episode of the Critical Thinking Initiative is brought to you by the Critical Thinking Initiative. Org Visit the Critical Thinking Initiative. Org For an ever expanding resource of books, syllabi, videos and other resources on critical thinking, the critical thinking initiative is always seeking out other people in education who want to work towards raising critical thinking outcomes locally and nationally.
Steve Pearlman: So our question of the week comes from Patricia in Nebraska. Hi, Patricia.
Dave Carillo: Hi, how’s
Steve Pearlman: Nebraska? Thanks for listening. Nebraska, that’s the central most state in the country. Or is that Kansas?
Dave Carillo: I thought it was Kansas or is it is the midpoint? Is the middle like that sort of where Kansas and Nebraska and two other states, the four corner?
Steve Pearlman: You know, I thought that was, you know, that was closer to Nevada. It might be.
Dave Carillo: And I don’t know Patricia get. Back to us is Nebraska in the middle of the country, or is it Kansas
Steve Pearlman: Because we can’t access a map? I don’t have a map here. She has listened to our previous podcast where we talked about some exercises for the classroom, and she asked us the following. She says, I listen to the jury reporter, attorney exercise, and I understand how it helps students become better at analyzing the text and evidence. Can you offer some help on how to get them to transition into using the evidence in their own thinking? That’s an interesting question.
Dave Carillo: It’s an interesting question.
Steve Pearlman: So for those of you, one a little back story. If you didn’t listen to the last podcast, here’s the 10 second snippet of it, which is that one of the exercises we offered for any classroom is working through what we call the jury reporter or attorney mindset. And so very basically an attorney picks one side and has to argue for that particular side,
Dave Carillo: Regardless of any other evidence that might be present.
Steve Pearlman: And a reporter is only offering observation, only summarizing things that have happened. And what we really want students to do is to adopt the role of a jury, which is to survey arguments made by both attorneys and all of the evidence and then reason their way by weighing out those different pieces of evidence to some kind of conclusion. So what, Patricia, as we’re interpreting it as asking here is it’s one thing to look at the evidence being put forward by a text, but how do we get students to sort of apply that mindset back on to their own thinking process? And that’s a very fair question, because mostly we talked about the jury role as being one where it’s an examination of an argument somebody else is making. Instead of the argument that you yourself are making. One of the things that we work most with students about when we’re talking to them and talking to faculty about is helping students understand that we’re going to value what is incomplete, what might be ambiguous, what might be gray. And students are more in that attorney mindset. They’ve typically been reared more in the attorney mindset, where they have to pick a side and argue it. And if they are offering any representation of the other side, it’s often straw person that’s simplified and quickly glossed over in service of reinforcing the argument that they’re making for one particular side, and we speak a lot to students about is the fact that we want them to recognize where are some of their conclusions might not be complete or where there might be some speculation, where they might be making an interpretation that could have other interpretations, where they might have some bias in their own thinking process and to let them know that not just that, that’s OK, but that’s essential for them to do to recognize where their own thinking about something isn’t perfect and it isn’t complete, and it can’t be tied up into a perfectly neat bow, which is how the world works.
Steve Pearlman: And that’s something that our complexity category focuses on a lot. Whether or not you’re using our schematic is irrelevant. The greater point here is emphasizing for students and valuing for students and having a way to assess for students the fact that this isn’t something that is permissible to do. This is something that’s essential that we do in writing and thinking all the time for ourselves so that we are being fair to a topic and recognizing where our own thinking might not be perfect because it’s never perfect.
Dave Carillo: That’s a great point. And actually, that’s something that always gets neglected. We feel in a lot of the kinds of writing assignments that we that we see when we do faculty development is this idea that the stronger conclusion is going to come when ambiguity is being addressed, when uncertainty is being included in that kind of thing.
Steve Pearlman: All right. So news of the week time, OK, so we should have some news of the week, intro music or something.
Dave Carillo: Actually, I just want the, you know, whatever that like boom, boom, boom, boom. Right? Yes, right? With the typewriters in the back.
Steve Pearlman: No, that’s right. That’s exactly what I want something newsy from 1970
Dave Carillo: That’s probably got to be copyrighted. I bet that costs an arm and a leg to get. We have to look into it. Maybe we can make our own.
Steve Pearlman: We could find something, maybe a listener. Do you have
Dave Carillo: Think just an old school Casio keyboard? We can start combing the thrift stores, get a keyboard, get a typewriter and make our own sound effects. Yeah. So I’ll go first. I pulled this from sexology, which is kind of like a Reddit site where users generate content. It provides legal updates for a host of different categories. This one comes from human resources written by someone, I believe by Teresa Wilkins out of Conduit, which is a firm that provides business process services. At any rate, the title of the piece is human resources in an age of fake news. Hmm. Right. Here’s what I find interesting about it. Essentially, this article talks about how, although quote most recently associated with politics in the 2016 presidential campaign, the fake news issue actually spills over into many facets of American life in an increasingly digital world. False or misleading information can. Reach more people more quickly, decisions based on fake news can intersect with human resources, including the areas of health care, decision making, financial planning and career moves, end quote. I found that really interesting, right? Yes, we generally associate fake news with some sort of politicized situation, but it is kind of interesting to see to that. Now human resources and other departments and corporations have to be on point with providing individuals with clear, concise facts about some of the choices they have to make. And so the one that the one that they talk about specifically is health care quote. When an employees are trying to choose which health care option is best for themselves and their families, it’s important to have solid benefits communication policy in place to ensure that workers are getting accurate information.
Steve Pearlman: So what you’re saying is that the problem here is that no matter which political party perspective we’re talking about, there is so much either embrace of what might be actually fake news or at least concern about things that are reported as being fake news that people don’t even know how to make accurate health care decisions for themselves anymore. Because the nature of health care has been so obfuscated by fake news as an issue.
Dave Carillo: That’s exactly what I’m saying, and that’s why I found this so interesting and it sort of pulled it in is a sort of break from the other kind of articles that I brought in, which are mostly about critical thinking and education in that kind of thing. So. One more quote. A recent survey found that forty four percent of people express difficulty making health care decisions due to concern about fake news, and sixty three percent felt that fake news threatened their ability to make financial decisions, with another twenty nine percent stating that the extent of misinformation made it harder for them to decide whether to accept job offers end quote. But that health care issue is obviously big in the news now, and obviously there are two sides to this and there are more sides to this. But the sides that we’re being given by most of the larger news organizations are presented as the. The Left and the right. And I found it interesting that corporations who may or may not traditionally be perceived as conservative entities in some way shape or form are now having to start to communicate as factual information as possible about these issues that are otherwise so widely politicized.
Dave Carillo: And I also find it very interesting that normally our articles are talking about critical thinking in the classroom, critical thinking at an early age, at a later age, college outcomes and so on and so forth. And now we’re starting to see that critical thinking in the workplace is just as strong and not just for problem solving to finish projects, but to actually make decisions that affect their lives. And so I felt that this would be an interesting way to articulate to our readers that when you are talking about critical thinking being important to your students, is it not important we’re seeing it now in terms of the kinds of benefits decisions they make in their jobs. And we’re seeing it in terms of H.R. employees needing to potentially sift through some pretty damaging misinformation on health care and health care programs and what’s being offered and what’s not and what would actually happen if someone in their family got sick, that maybe there is no death panel actually in the health plan they have, even though
Steve Pearlman: They think there’s a death, they think there’s a death panel. And so allotting for the fact that we all might have to struggle to find reliable news sources or what have you on certain issues that you might not know what to trust and what not to trust fully. Human resources departments are seeing this problem. In fact, the employees in the sense of not being able to critically reason about evidence about their own lives and policies.
Dave Carillo: Exactly. I mean, doesn’t it make you want to contact some of these companies and say, Hey, maybe the critical thinking initiative can help because we want everybody to be safe and healthy and be able to reason through misinformation and quote fake news?
Steve Pearlman: It’s really actually that’s actually a terrifying article
Dave Carillo: Because to some extent,
Steve Pearlman: Right, it’s showing the magnitude of how much we are being affected a by the media, be by the accusations of fake news in the media and then see by obviously the struggle that people are having to reason critically through some of this information in order to be able to make just reasonable decisions for their lives.
Dave Carillo: And, you know, props to Theresa Wilkins for getting this information out, you know, and she does go into talking about tools to help spot fake news. She cites PolitiFact and FactCheck.org as as good ones. And in the meantime, not only is it terrifying that HR reps and other individuals like this have to help employees through these issues. But what happens if there’s a company that doesn’t want to help their employees through these issues? Is there are there? Are there corporations out there that are OK with letting? Certain elements or certain misconceptions about certain policies exist, I don’t know, but, you know, hopefully this helps people sort of align themselves and get on the right track.
Steve Pearlman: Well, maybe I can offer from my news of the week, maybe I can offer you a potential source of hope. All right.
Dave Carillo: For all of this, I would love to hear
Steve Pearlman: Some hope coming from a source that most people might not necessarily immediately go to as a first source for critical thinking. But as we know, big in the news this week was the fact that the Boy Scouts are going to allow girls to join absolutely and open their doors, which is great. But there’s actually a very big difference between how Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts approach problems based on how really the two organizations structure the badges do tell. Well, this is by Cate Stringer. It’s called Science is for Boy Scouts. Critical thinking is for Girl Scouts. Here’s how they differ in their gendered messaging to children. What she does is she goes on to cite some research that’s been done. I pulled the study to talk about that little bit more here, but she says quote. But research comparing the two organizations reveals distinct differences in their messaging and programming available to boys and girls, boys could earn a professional sounding geologist badge while girls earned one with a much cuter name rocks rock. But when boys learned about rocks, they responded to questions about minerals and mountains and a booklet with all the answers available. Conversely, girls were required to do research, start a rock collection, classify them using their own source materials, learn about natural disasters, or connect with a group fighting erosion.
Dave Carillo: That is very interesting.
Steve Pearlman: So Boy Scout badges. According to this article and the research that was done, are earned more by regurgitating information that’s readily available in the handbook. Whereas Girl Scout badges are earned more through this inquiry based critical thinking
Dave Carillo: Process, I was going to say that that sort of resonates with the kind of problem based learning that we talked to faculty about that that’s super interesting.
Steve Pearlman: At the same time, it’s unfortunate that the girls badges have to be cutesy. And in fact, the article says quote boys badges were more likely to have career sounding names, but girls badges required research and critical thinking skills. So I actually tracked back the article on which she basis or the research on which she based this, and it’s by Kathleen Denney article is gender and context content and approach comparing gender messages in Girl Scout and Boy Scout handbooks and this is from Gender and Society Vol. 25 No. One in February of 2011. Mm hmm. And so what she did was a number of different analyses of the handbooks, the language being used and the task put before them. And she came to some interesting conclusions. Quote Activity number seven of the Boy Citizen badge asked the boys to quote, explain the rights and duties of a citizen of the United States. A few pages later in the handbook, a reader would come upon the right hand page your rights and duties, which provides all of the answers and explanations necessary for successfully completing this activity.
Dave Carillo: Wow, that’s OK. Continue.
Steve Pearlman: The girls are also asked about rights and duties of U.S. citizens, but are not provided the answers. Instead, activity number two for the girls model citizen badge reads some quoting What do you think are some of the rights and responsibilities that come with being a citizen of the United States? Ask different members of the community what they think and compare and discuss the answers you get. No answers are provided in the text, and the girls are instructed to speak with a variety of people and synthesize their responses. So I do think that maybe there’s something here that the Boy Scouts can learn from the Girl Scouts in how they’re approaching teaching these kids about society or earning their badges. I would get into whole thing about whether or not they should get badges for anything but about how they’re earning these badges. And I would say that maybe if you’re the parent of a young girl, I don’t know. Are you going to think twice now about whether or not you really want that girl to be part of the Boy Scout organization? Or if the Girl Scouts have a better idea going on in certain respects? I don’t
Dave Carillo: Know. I mean, change the badge names, but in terms of pedagogy and process, in terms of what we know about the kinds of problem based learning and inquiry based learning and how those things can help grow the brain, I think that the Girl Scouts right now, you know, have it all over the Boy Scouts. So hopefully maybe when they combine them, they can, you know, they can do a little share pedagogies and figure some things out, right?
Steve Pearlman: And maybe the so maybe the girls can earn a professional sounding badge name, but everyone can go through a process that’s more driven by critical thinking and inquiry and so on and so forth.
Dave Carillo: And cheers to the Girl
Steve Pearlman: Scouts, right? Is that fascinating? Also, to me is
Dave Carillo: A really interesting it’s a really, really interesting article. Well, thanks for bringing it in.
Steve Pearlman: My pleasure, David.
Dave Carillo: Absolutely. And thank you, everybody for listening. Please join us again soon when we’ll talk about more stuff.
Steve Pearlman: Critical thinking. We’ll talk. Are thinking things again soon, thanks again.
Dave Carillo: Bye bye.
Voiceover: Thank you for listening to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. Got questions for Steve and Dave? Just send them to info at the Critical Thinking Initiative dot org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and find us at WW W Dot The Critical Thinking Initiative. Org.