Speakers for the 2011 Symposium

Keynote – What is the Art of Changing the Brain?

James Zull, Ph.D.

Downloads: Keynote


James E. Zull James E. Zull

What is “the art of changing the brain?” This question arises when educators realize that learning does physically change the brain. Thus, our answer to the question is: This art is creating learner experiences that naturally lead to physical change in the networks of the brain. First, then, we will present neuroscience experiments that demonstrate this claim, focusing on the cerebral cortex. Next we will ask “what kind of experiences lead to such change in the brain?” We will discover two answers to that question. The first is: experiences that generate repeated firing and engagement of multiple regions of cortex. The more regions of cortex involved in learning experiences, the more likely those experiences are to change the brain. The second answer is: emotional experiences that lead to exposure of the cortex to “emotion chemicals” such as dopamine or serotonin. The more that emotion chemicals are part of an experience, the more likely that experience is to change the brain. These two realizations then lead us to ask how educators can apply these concepts. That is, how can experiences repeatedly engage wide areas of cortex, and how can we obtain involvement of the emotion systems in learner experiences? The first question leads us to discover a brain-version of the cycle of learning proposed by David Kolb, and the second one draws our attention to the connection between emotion and cognition. Both thought and feelings are necessary in student understanding. And it is this blend that constitutes the “art.” In addition, the latter linkage (connection of emotion and cognition) opens a new discussion about the nature of the human mind, and a new model for mind will be presented as we turn our focus to education. This session will be interactive, and will involve audience discovery of the concepts described above.


James E. Zull is professor of biology and founding director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education (UCITE) at Case Western Reserve University. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) he taught and conducted research in Biochemistry at CWRU for 25 years, publishing over 100 papers. He became UCITE Director in 1994 and began to study the literature on learning and neuroscience, which led to his book The Art of Changing the Brain; Enriching Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. This book is based on stories about students and teachers he has met in his 38 years on the Case faculty. It provides an accessible discussion of the biology of learning for teachers at all levels.

Panel – Supporting learning in formal and informal contexts: Three complementary theoretical approaches.

Joshua Danish, Kathy Johnson, Kylie A. Peppler

Downloads: Presentation(Joshua Danish)
Presentation (Kathy Johnson)
Presentation (Kylie Peppler)


With the advent of new technologies and our understanding of the distributed nature of learning, what does current theory and research tell us about supporting learning across formal and informal contexts? The three panelists will begin the discussion by introducing their current work and guiding theoretical perspectives. Their work ranges from early science education, informal arts education, to early childhood language development. Across these perspectives, the panelists have learned a number of valuable lessons about the social factors that might be organized to support individual learning. They will share vignettes from their research that drive their award-winning classroom teaching and research that challenge the traditional organization of learning activities. Specific topics covered by the panel will include:

  • What does current research suggest about organizing classroom and distance education learning?
  • How can informal learning opportunities be organized to maximize learning outcomes?
  • What is the role of technology in supporting how people learn?

Each of the respondents will share their expertise on current learning sciences research. The audience is also encouraged to contribute to the overall discussion and the panel welcomes additional questions.


Joshua Danish, Ph.D.

Joshua Danish Joshua Danish

Joshua Danish is an assistant professor in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University Bloomington. Joshua’s research examines the role of external representations, such as drawings, maps, and computer simulations, in supporting cognition and learning. To study learning and development in classroom contexts, Joshua employs Cultural Historical Activity Theory to articulate the influence of various mediators – the physical tools, rules, division of labor and local community –- on students’ activities as they learn and develop. Recent research has included the development and study of BeeSign, a computer simulation and accompanying curriculum that engages kindergarten and first grade students in learning about the nectar gathering behavior of honeybee hives; the Community Mapping Project in which 7th grade students learned basic statistics concepts using the MyWorld Geographical Information Systems (GIS) mapping software to study local community issues; and the Semiotic Pivots and Activity Spaces for Elementary Science (SPASES) project, which takes advantage of sensing technologies and augmented reality tools to support 1st and 2nd grade students in learning about physical science concepts.

Kathy Johnson, Ph.D.

Kathy Johnson Kathy Johnson

Kathy Johnson is professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She received her Ph.D. in Cognition and Development from Emory University in 1992, and her M.S. in Developmental Psychology in 1989. She has published extensively in the field of cognitive development, with projects focused on expertise acquisition in children and adults, language acquisition, concept development and categorization, and very young children’s development of symbolic understanding. Her research has been funded by a variety of agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. More recently she has partnered with colleagues at IU Bloomington, Purdue University, and Head Start to examine the impact of zoo education on children’s developing understanding and attitudes toward animals and conservation. Dr. Johnson has many years of experience engaging in training and mentoring graduate students and new faculty on classroom pedagogy through the Preparing Future Faculty program. She serves on a number of working groups and task forces related to undergraduate education and has engaged in research related to advising and undergraduate capstone experiences. She led the development of a concept paper for the IUPUI Honors College and she serves on the steering committee for Indiana University’s Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (FACET).

Kylie A. Peppler, Ph.D.

Kylie A. Peppler Kylie A. Peppler

Kylie A. Peppler is an is an assistant professor in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University Bloomington. An artist by training, Peppler engages in research that focuses on the intersection of arts, media, new technologies, and informal learning. Peppler completed her B.A. in Psychology, French and Studio Arts from Indiana University Bloomington and went on to study with James Catterall and Yasmin Kafai at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she earned her Ph.D. in Education studying the media arts practices of urban youth at a Computer Clubhouse in South Los Angeles. During this time, Peppler was involved in the study and development of Scratch, a media-rich programming environment, which resulted in numerous journal articles as well as a recent book titled, The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and Creativity in Youth Communities (Teachers College Press, 2009). Currently, Peppler uses a constructionist approach to learning and design on her work on a number of new projects including the collaborative study (with Leah Buechley and Yasmin Kafai) of e-textiles. In this project, she is aiding in the development of new programming tools as well as as an online community for LilyPad Arduino designers, called LilyPond. The National Science Foundation as well as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Initiative support Peppler’s current work on creativity, systems thinking, and media arts in youth communities. Peppler seeks to study the media arts practices of urban, rural, and (dis)abled youth in order to better understand and support literacy, learning, and the arts in the 21st Century.

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