Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
What is “teaching” from the viewpoint of Brain-Science?
Although teaching is a concept that is also included in the concept of education, because its content is more specified, it requires more neural circuit-oriented definition and understanding. First, as symbolized in the phrase “Education is to light a fire on the mind,” the core and origin of education lies in how to motivate learning and draw enthusiasm for learning, which are mainly driven by the functions of the reward system residing mainly in the limbic cortex working above and below consciousness—especially the functions of the “anticipation of a reward” system, which is centered on the basal ganglia, and the ventral tegmental area—a central nerve system for pleasurable sensation. The reward could be not only material but also mental, for example, praise, honor or a feeling of satisfaction. With sufficient enthusiasm, one can actually learn from the teacher even by “Damedashi” (only saying “no” when a learner is wrong). The neuronal basis could be related to the “trinary relationship” in psychology based on mutual trust .
Specifically, the brain functions for “teaching” begin with understanding and analyzing students’ learning environment, followed by leading students in a good direction to boost enthusiasm for learning and controlling the external stimuli (materials given to establish new neural circuits effectively) that learners receive. In case some external stimuli are unsuitable, such unnecessary stimuli are removed and missing stimuli are prepared. The active brain functions that control external stimuli are considered to be the “presumption” to understand how the learner is learning, an “assessment” to analyze the learner’s situation and “thinking” to control new stimuli and prepare appropriate stimuli. To analyze these brain functions, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) offers the most effective data among the currently available imaging equipment because the fMRI can track the functions of the whole brain—the cerebral cortex, the limbic cortex and the brain stems—as well as neural connectivities between cerebral areas with using tractography by the diffusion-weighted MRI.
Once the basic brain functions for teaching are successfully measured by fMRI/MRI, based on the knowledge gained by fMRI/MRI measurement, it becomes possible to apply near-infrared spectroscopic optical topography (NIRS-OT). A special feature of the NIRS-OT is that it enables simultaneous imaging of the functions of the cerebral cortex of plural brains in a natural environment. To measure brain functions of one teacher and many students in a classroom, wearable optical topography (WOT) is required.
The above explanation is a general theory for teaching, which is applicable to any field from the natural sciences, the human and social sciences, art, sports, ethics and moral education to childhood education on compassion and warm-heartedness, respect for cultural diversity and peace education.