More on the importance of handwriting

I previously wrote (and here) and spoke about the importance to learning of taking handwritten notes, and of summarizing concepts with drawings and schematics.
A recent article in Psychological Science provides further support for this notion. Researchers at Princeton report that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. The researchers conclude that “whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning”. This, and other relevant studies, are described in a recent New York Times article.


Posted in brain development, technology, writing | Leave a comment

More on neuroscience and education

I recently wrote about the relatively new advances in education that are informed by parallel advances in neuroscience, and in particularly in brain development. I also pointed out the risks of misinterpreting or selectively choosing (‘cherry picking’) certain neuroscience research findings to support certain educational initiatives. In a recent article The Guardian further explores this issue. The article reports a recent proposal to United Kingdom’s Association of Teachers and Lecturers to disseminate to teachers information on how neuroscience can be applied to the classroom. Pete Etchells, the author of the article in The Guardian, raises valid cautionary points regarding proposals such as this.


Posted in brain development

The use and abuse of neuroscience

As a neuroscientist, and and a proponent of Waldorf Education, I seek evidence-based support for the principles of this education system, and I am particularly intrigued by evidence from brain research, the academic field I chose. Ed Meade (our Director of Education) and I recently had the opportunity to speak with our community about How the Developing Brain Informs Waldorf Education. I am delighted that neuroscience informed curricula are all the rage, spearheaded by Johns Hopkins’ School of Education Neuro Education Initiative (and their intriguing new Mind, Brain and Teaching certificate program).

However, as discussed in our recent session, there is a tendency to misinterpret and over-interpret results of neuroscience and cognitive development research, and to selectively choose certain findings to support education initiatives and policies. Further, there is growing concern about the rigor and reproducibility of a significant number of published neuroscience and cognitive science research.

The uses and abuses of research findings—in the context of education, parenting and family policy—was the topic of a recent international conference (some presentations can be viewed here) . This topic was also covered recently in a thoughtful article in The Guardian.


Posted in brain development, science, Waldorf | Leave a comment

Adolescence: A primer for teenagers

Frontiers for Young Minds is a unique web-based, peer-reviewed scientific journal that aims to engage school age children in the art of science. A recent article, Drama in the Teenage Brain, explores the extensive developmental spurt in the brains of adolescents, and the behavioral developments associated with this growth. Recommended reading for children and their parents.


Posted in brain development

Steiner Waldorf schools as models for science teaching

The Austrian Federal Institute for Education Research, Innovation and Development of the Austrian School System (BIFIE) recommends Steiner Waldorf schools as models for teaching in the sciences. The original report (in German) and the original blog post is on Excalibur’s blog.

“Based on the relatively high competence of Waldorf pupils in natural science, combined with exceptionally high indicators of motivation and reflective cognition in these subjects as well as the different pedagogical principles, it is reasonable to conclude that public education can learn from the Steiner Waldorf schools, in particular with regard to being able to concretely apply knowledge in natural science.”

Numerical scores in this analysis place the average performance of Waldorf students above that of students in OECD countries, and above 2 of the 3 high school systems in Austria.

Posted in science, Waldorf

Why we chose Waldorf Education

While I’m very far from a Luddite, one of the reasons that we specifically chose a Waldorf education for our three children was the limitations on technology and media exposure at a young age, which allows them to develop a better sense of ‘self’ so that when they interact with media and technology they are coming from a position of strength and not one of being manipulated by the media/technology. I agree that kids should have an understanding of the perils of online technology and critical thinking skills when dealing with media, but not at the expense of the character of the Waldorf Education. Waldorf offers something special and unique. Our WSB kids are far more developed than their peers in reading, writing, history and more, and they aren’t as swayed by the latest big movie release, or pop songs over-sexualizing them when they still need to be children.

I work with kids in 4th and 5th grade in the city public schools, with 8th graders in Roland Park, Francis Scott Key, Kennedy-Kreiger and Calvert schools, and I see the results of the over-exposure all the time. I run children’s writing programs for 6–12 year olds at Loyola, in-school audio recording/production programs and summer radio programs. I see and hear the results of their educational path constantly and I’m deeply grateful for what WSB offers as an alternative.

There is an expanding pushback from pediatric groups against media and technology for young children. Perhaps instead of running towards technology WSB might do well to use the scientific studies to reinforce its stand to not introduce things too early? This article, by the American Academy of Pediatrics, explores this issue.

As parents, we have the ability to teach technologies that we want at home, in addition to the curriculum, whether it’s coding, mobile app development, particle physics, audio production, etc… There may be other parents that don’t necessarily want these topics taught in their WSB classroom. I’m only suggesting that we tread lightly lest we put at risk the very character that led many of us choose WSB over the vast array of generic private schools in the city.

John Devecka (WSB parent)

Posted in media, technology, Waldorf | Leave a comment

Is Parental Involvement Overrated?

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Angel Harris and Keith Robinson, both academic sociologists (and authors of The Broken Compass), review research on the impact of parental involvement on the academic success of their children. Their research—analyses of longitudinal studies that tracked children over three decades—found that “most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing”.

The authors conclude that some forms of parental involvement might benefit certain children, but that the more important impact parents can have is by communicating the value of education. They conclude “What should parents do? They should set the stage and then leave it.”

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Play is the central item in children’s lives.

The Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian Institute is devoted to the study of invention and innovation. It produced a short video exploring the role of play in children’s development. Most of the video consists of comments by scientists and educators; worth viewing. Several additional videos on the Lemelson Center site further explore this topic. One of my favorite quotes is by Craig Venter “My favorite toys were hammers, nails, saws, and scavenged lumber that I used for building forts, airplanes, and boats-although you had to use your imagination to what they were on completion.”

A reminder of the critical role of play in Waldorf Education, and the unfortunate disappearance of play from many children’s’ lives.


Posted in play, Waldorf

WSB featured in Mt. Washington Life Magazine

Joh Crooks, writing for Mt. Washington Live magazine, published the article Academic Excellence in Focus, in which he described his (very positive) impressions of his recent visit to WSB.

Posted in media, Waldorf | Leave a comment

“Blended Learning”: The new panacea?

Blended learning is a form of education in which traditional, classroom based learning is complemented by personalized tutoring, usually in the form of computer-based activities. Proponents argue that this approach allows students to learn at their optimal pace, and allows teachers to tailor lessons to individual students’ needs and strengths. Advocates also suggest that blended learning can result insignificant financial savings, an attractive advantage for struggling, independent schools. A recent article in The Atlantic explores these issues.

Posted in technology