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Issue 62, March 2017
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Neuromyths and brain-based learning by Martin Westwell
Last year, the makers of the brain-training product Luminosity were fined two million dollars for false advertising claiming, among other things, that users would perform better at school.
There’s a long history of people using the seed of a scientific idea and mutating it so that it grows into a meme that spreads and reproduces. The mutant meme bears little resemblance to the original healthy seed but thrives because someone’s nurturing it to make money and the original science makes it sound plausible. The mutant idea promises a quick fix or at least a simple way to deal with a complex problem.
Martin Westwell is the Strategic Professor in the Science of Learning at Flinders University. He recently undertook research in South Australian schools demonstrating that brain-training does not transfer into increased performance at school.
So called educational “neuromyths” have some of these mutant characteristics. Take the notion that a child can be identified as a left or right-brain thinker. This takes solid science about how parts of the brain are specialized and necessary for specific thinking processes, some of which are on the left side of the brain and some on the right. It then incorrectly assumes that because these parts of the brain are necessary then they are sufficient. It forgets the enormous interconnectivity between brain cells and that for someone to understand something simple, e.g. a picture of a face, requires many brain regions, from left and right, working together. The final twist subverts teachers’ and parents’ understanding that children do have preference, at any given time, as to how they express themselves whether that be, for example, artistically, technically or analytically. Identifying children as left or right brain thinkers makes a complex situation seem simple and this never works. Giving in to temptation to teach the left-brain thinkers in their so-called preferred learning style and the right-brain thinkers in theirs, is likely to do more harm than good.
This caricature has all the real ingredients of a neuromyth: some good science, an accidental or wilful misinterpretation of the evidence, plausibility to educators and some apparent value. Then educational consultants take the idea and start selling it.
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Professional learning opportunities
Social Skills for Children/Students with Diverse Needs
  • Woodcroft Neighbourhood Centre, 175 Bains Road, Morphett Vale, Thursday 9 March, 4:30-6:00pm, early $29, normal $39.
  • Sophia Conference Centre, 225 Cross Road Cumberland Park, Monday 27 March, 5:00 – 6:30pm, early $29, normal $39.
Find out more here.
The Geography Teachers Association of SA is holding a Digital Mapping Skills workshop. Thursday 9 March, 4:30-6:30pm at Concordia College, 24 Winchester Street, Highgate, $100 non-members. Email for more information.
The Mindful Classroom is offering a two week program of 2.5 hour sessions to learn about mindfulness and how it can be used to create calm and space to be fully present as an educator.
  • Saturday 18 March & 1 April, 9:00-11:30am, McCracken Country club, Victor Harbor, $155. More information here.
  • Saturday 18 March & 1 April, 1:30 – 4:00pm, Round House, 146 Railway Terrace, Murray Bridge. More information here.
  • Hindmarsh: Sat 25 March & Sat 8 April, 9:00-11:30am. More information here.
  • Mawson Lakes: Wed 29 March & Wed 12 April, 4:00-6:30pm Cost $155. More information here
Learning 4 All presents a special education information session with Mark Le Messurier for primary and secondary school teachers.
Hands on Activities and Ideas to Build Trusting Relationships and Improve Learning Outcomes with Tricky Students, Monday 20 March, 9.00am – 3.30pm, The Highway, 290 Anzac Highway, Plympton $140. More information here.
Little Lessons is holding a workshop ‘Understanding Dyslexia’ with Kay Bosworth. Tuesday 21 March at 6:45pm – 8:15pm at the Cove Civic Centre, 1 Ragamuffin Drive, Hallett Cove, $55 + booking fee. Find out more information here.
The Hartley Institute is offering the following:
  • Introduction to Leadership Coaching, a two-day workshop focussing on the performance conversations and managing hard feedback using a coaching approach. Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 March, 8:30am – 4:00pm, cost $660. More information here.
  • Embedding design technologies across the curriculum (Yrs 3-5), Tuesday 14 March, 4:30-6:30pm, cost $22. More information here.
  • Embedding design technologies across the curriculum (Yrs 6-8), Tuesday 21 March, 4:30-6:30pm, cost $22. More information here.
All workshops to be held at The Hartley Institute, Cnr Capper Street & The Parade West, Kent Town
The Hartley Institute is offering a New Teachers Program, a year-long program specifically designed for teachers in their first five years of teaching. The first workshop is on Thursday 23 March and the last workshop is on Monday 11 September. All workshops are at The Hartley Institute, Kent Town, cost $1400. More information here.
Autism SA workshops
  • Work, rewards, breaks - getting the most from students on the Autism spectrum, Wednesday 15 March, 1:00–4:00pm.
  • Proactive prevention of meltdowns for people on the Autism spectrum, Wednesday 22 March, 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • The anxiety curve; what to do when a person on the Autism spectrum is escalating, Wednesday 29 March, 9:30am–4:00pm
All sessions are held at 262 Marion Road, Netley, Register at
UniSA Connect are holding, Engineers Without Borders, free of charge, at their Mawson Lakes Campus, Thursday 16 March, 4:00pm-6:00pm. For more information click here.
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