Not Your Father’s Brain Research

This week's blog entry was written by Director of Program Development and Research Sherry Burke.

Sherry BurkeWhen I was in graduate school in 1977, my favorite class was called “Anatomy of the Brain.” Thirty-three years ago, about all that was known about the brain was its basic anatomy, but I still found it intriguing to learn about this amazingly complex organ. I was a high school teacher at the time, and I remember marveling at the differences in my students’ thinking and learning, but the science of learning (cognitive science) still relied on theories and observations of behavior. Little was known about what was actually going on in those heads of theirs!

How things have changed. The development of an alphabet soup of non-invasive brain imaging technologies (CT scans, PET scans, fMRis, and MEGs), the first of which were just appearing in the 1970s, has revolutionized scientists’ ability to see our brains in action—when we are thinking, feeling, solving complex problems, and learning. Near the end of the 1970’s, the term cognitive neuroscience was coined.

This emerging knowledge base has profound implications for teaching and learning. Yet there is often a gap between the information science has uncovered and its availability to the very people who could best use it to make a positive impact on children’s lives.

One of the things I love about our work at Committee for Children is that we help bridge that gap, carefully designing, testing, and refining user-friendly programs to help teachers apply the latest research in their work with children and youth. This “translated research” function represents the intersection of two things I have always loved: research and education.

As a young teacher and graduate student, before computers became more ubiquitous than books in university libraries, I never would have predicted the extent to which technology would revolutionize our understanding of human learning. But my fascination with the brain continues, and I anxiously await the unraveling of its mysteries!

Tune in next week for the third and last entry in Executive Director Joan Duffell's series, “The Roots of my Advocacy.”