Will Partnerships Facilitate Learning?

Strategic Philanthropy
Thursday, May 27, 2010

According to Kurt Fisher, Director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at Harvard University, we need partnerships between researchers and practitioners, like the medical school model of teaching hospitals.  Fisher advocates the creation of lab schools, similar to what John Dewey did at the University of Chicago a hundred years ago. 

 Fisher’s words are echoed by Kenneth Kosik, Co-Director of the Neuroscience Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara.  There needs to be a system that facilitates a free flow of information between researchers and teachers, says Kosik.  We should create teaching schools that study actual students and are capable of generating data on such critical questions as: What types of rewards work to motivate students?  If satisfying one’s curiosity represents a reward, how can we instill curiosity, one of the most desired goals of education?

 As someone who has been in the field of education policy making and research for about 25 years, the idea of bridging the gap between research and practice through a lab school is not a new one to me.  So what is stopping us?  When I posed this question to Kenneth Kosik, he said it would require teachers to act very differently.  They would have to make dramatic changes in how they use their time and would have to act as researchers.

 Perhaps this is an opportune time to develop a lab school that could serve as a prototype. There is consensus that our current education system is failing to effectively reach large numbers of young people. Neuro-education, the new partnership between neuroscience and education, offers critical insights into how people learn.  Thanks to technology, we can now actually study how the brain works as it is solving a math problem or reading a book. A laboratory school would provide a shared space that marries the data and the students to apply accumulated knowledge to learning and then feed back the results to further advance our understandings of human learning and motivation.