SIG Focus: Welcome to the Brain SIG

Curtis Kelly; Mind, Brain, and Education SIG

Welcome to the Brain SIG


Neuroscience is changing the world, but not the field of education.  The slow pace at which new findings in the brain sciences are impacting our classrooms is a source of concern for some educators. Few graduate programs in ELT give neuroscience its due credit, despite the amazing benefits that neuroscience offers. It is finally unraveling the mysteries of how memory works, the object of our teaching, and how we make meaning of language, the object of our teaching subject.

A group of interested and dedicated educators joined forces to address this gap. We felt that if we waited for neuroscience to percolate through Linguistics and the other academic fields at the base of our profession, we would miss rich opportunities to improve our field.  We decided to find out as much as we could and teach each other.  FAB conferences, organized by Robert Murphy, have been successfully doing that since 2011, but we felt it was time to bring neuroscience and psychology to JALT as well.  So, about a year ago, we formed the Mind, Brain, and Education SIG, a name borrowed from a Harvard Master’s program.

In many ways, the Mind, Brain, and Education SIG is different from other SIGS.  First of all, we do not see the primary purpose of our SIG, albeit an important one, to provide a way for people with similar training or interests to interact.  Instead, we see ourselves as teachers from every background imaginable, looking for relevant discoveries in neuroscience and psychology that can make others and ourselves better teachers.  We see our primary mission as informing ourselves and others about neuroscience.  We would like to get a wider range of knowledge of neuoscientific findings, rather than get very deep into the field.  

Our forums gather many people giving brief talks on a variety of important concepts or research in neuroscience. We feel it benefits us all to learn more about how long-term memory is made through sleep, how stress or pleasure shape learning, and how our brains use embodied simulation to make meaning. This also explains why we retain more from stories than vocabulary lists.

Our journal, the MindBrainEd Bulletin is not a platform for our members to publish research.  Instead, we direct our members to fascinating research online, and discuss the ramifications for our field. We do not limit ourselves to journal articles. Each issue looks at: 1) a research paper which is discussed by our SIG Think Tank; 2) an informative paperless posting, such as a video or podcast; and 3) something out of the box and hopefully startling. One example is how certain parasites that change the amygdala might explain why some people are so obsessed with cats, like the Houston twins. Houston Police found these 60-year-old sisters had over a hundred emaciated cats in their house with deep piles of feces all over the floor. Indeed, out of the box.

So join us.  By that, I don’t necessarily mean you should join us as a member, but come to our forums at the Pan-SIG and JALT National conferences and learn about the interesting things being discovered.  Let’s see how neuroscience can change our world, one classroom at a time!

Curtis Kelly,

Mind, Brain, and Education SIG