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Get Neuro-Psyched!

Connecting the science of the brain, psychology, and health with EFL

July 03, 2011

EFL Annual Brain Days (FAB1) debut in Japan!

It's a dream come true and an important charity for the children of Tohoku. Since I embarked in my MA at the University of Birmingham years ago, I had desired to see a stronger focus on neuroscience in general TEFL literature. Because there was so little of it in the available TEFL books at the time, I turned to the Harvard Graduate School of Education -specifically to their Mind, Brain, and Education program. The work there, led by Dr. Kurt Fischer, paved the way for me to bring neuroscience to TEFL here in Japan. With the great help of three sempai colleagues in the forefront of TEFL in Japan, I have been given the chance to realize a big dream - to create an annual conference with the goal of discussing and promoting cutting-edge neuroscience for the sake of TEFL in Japan/Asia. It is called FAB1 (First Annual Brain days) and it will be held in Kitakyushu on July 9th, and in Kansai on July 10th this year.

If you have the chance to attend, I highly recommend joining us. As a reader of this column, I'm sure you must be at least mildly interested in how neuroscience can inform TEFL. What will the FAB1 conference be like? FAB1 is probably like no other conference that you have been to! The whole day is designed as a single coherent package. What you learn in the first session will connect and compound with every other session at the FAB conference! We believe in active learning -so be prepared to focus on the content and speak up during the "Power Sessions". By the end of the conference, you will have a notebook full of take home activities and a brain full of new ideas and inspiration for your classrooms!

Speaking of the plenaries, here are "sneak peak interviews" with Marc Helgesen, Curtis Kelly, and Tim Murphey.

Hello Curtis!
1) Why are you involved in FAB?
Curtis: There are so many new things coming out in brain science and many impact our teaching.  We need to know!

2) What will you discuss in your session?
Curtis: Fingers (findings in brain science) pointing at things as yet undiscovered, that might completely change our way of thinking about how language is learned. For example,... No, I don’t want to give it away here...

3) What can people take home from your session?
Curtis: Let’s see…, better understanding of how learning works on the neurological level, craving for Dopamine, a couple good stories, action plans for their 8-month old babies, greater trust in their teaching intuitions, an altered view of extensive reading, who knows?... I’m a constructivist.

4) The future (you or fab or both!)….
Curtis: I want to learn more about the role the reward system plays in learning.

Hello Marc!
1) Why are you involved in FAB?
Marc: This is all very organic. Most of the presenters have been talking to each other and going to each others’ sessions for years. And, I think, the common thread is humanism. So what is really interesting and exciting is that we are looking to some of the science behind that humanism – what is going on in our brains.

2) What will you discuss in your session?
Marc: I’ve been working with and talking about positive emotion for several years. I’ve been sharing activities that help EFL students work on the 8 behaviors that happy, mentally healthy people do. So I still do that and believe in those things. In the past couple years, I’ve gotten more interested savoring – looking at ways we can focus in on positive emotion and ways we can increase those feelings. And there is a lot of evidence that when we do this, it makes a real difference – in our brains and in our lives.

3) What can people take home from your session?
Marc: At a simple level, some activities you can use next week. And that is always useful. At a more complex level, some things I’m trying to work with now. I don’t know how to make “flow” (in Csikszentmihalyi’s sense) work day to day), I’m frustrated-- knowing how important spirituality is – that it is hard to get Japanese students interested. Goal setting is more complex than it first appears. So participants will take home both things they can use and some questions.

4) The future (you or fab or both!)….
Marc: Yes, and yes!

Hello Tim!
1) Why are you involved with FAB?
Tim: My brain saw the title and could not resist -- it is hooked on exciting things!

2) What will you discuss in your session?
Tim: Small things - neurons, the history of humanity, altruism, getting naturally high!

3) What can people take home from your session?
Tim: An appreciation for that which challenges and excites (the unknown). Thank golly, there is much unknown out there to play with!

4) The future (you or FAB or both!)...
Tim: Beneficial cycles of excitement integration and consolidation (sleep) with ever more appreciation for social networks and learning toward altruistic agency.

Thanks for the interview Curtis, Marc, and Tim!

FAB1 Plenary Schedule:

Robert S. Murphy
Plenary #1: 
5 Powerful Teaching Techniques: 
Improve Memory and Learning in the Classroom!

10:00 - 10:40 (July 9 in Kitakyushu, July 10 in Kansai)
What can teachers do to dramatically enhance student memory and learning in the EFL classroom? Five easy to implement techniques will be provided for teachers to take home and put on their classroom walls. This session will discuss provocative new discoveries in brain research and learning. The content, stemming from Robert's research at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is cutting-edge yet highly practical. Plenty of powerful take-home activities for your EFL classroom. Make your life easier -and your students happier with these neuro-'logical' EFL techniques!

Curtis Kelly
Plenary #2: 
How Emotion, Cognition and Movement Shape Learning

10:50 - 11:30 (July 9 in Kitakyushu, July 10 in Kansai)
We learn because the brain is plastic.  It is not hard-wired nor are processing areas fixed, as was long believed.  Of special interest to us is how the reward system of the brain affects plasticity and learning, including the super-learning we call addiction.  While we still do not have a complete view on the influence of dopamine, the fact that the reward system connects the cognitive, emotional, memory, and movement parts of our brains give us clues as to what might or might not work in the language learning.

Marc Helgesen
Plenary #3: 
ELT and “The Science of Happiness”

14:00 - 14:40 (July 9 in Kitakyushu, July 10 in Kansai)
As ELT teachers, we all deal with educational psychology – either with awareness or by default. This activity-based session looks at ways positive psychology (TIME magazine calls it “The science of happiness”) can be combined with clear language learning goals for active, invested learning.

Traditional psychology deals with mental illness. Positive psychology investigates mental health: What do happy, mentally healthy people do? How much of our happiness is predetermined (the “set point”)? This is more than “the power of positive thinking”. It is sharing with our students the concrete behaviors that elicit positive emotion (and endorphins!) and connecting them to language learning/practice tasks.

Tim Murphey
Plenary #4: 
The Brain on Agency

14:50 - 15:30 (July 9 in Kitakyushu, July 10 in Kansai)
Organizing our classes to allow students to feel some control (agency) over language, by actually using it, can create routes to intense motivation. The resulting excitement is something students often want to repeat. This presentation briefly describes what happens in the brain and why it is so exciting and outlines practical ways that teachers can help their students use a foreign language agentively in order to feel this excitement repeatedly in and out of classes. This presentation of course overlaps with positive psychology, memory studies, and general learning principles of the brain, and seeks to examine directly the setting up of activities to provide more of the thrill of agency.

We will also have fantastic local presenters!
Robert Croker, Brian Cullen, Lesley Ito, Adam Jenkins, Maggie Lieb, Kevin Maher, Sarah Mulvey, Mari Nakamura, Aoi Nasu, Margaget Orleans, Christopher Stillwell, Hideyuki Taura, Clair Taylor, and Matthew Walsh.

Plenary presenters will donate their honorariums directly to these children's charities of the Tohoku disaster (below). All FAB1 proceeds after costs will also be donated to these two charities.

For details, or online registration, please visit
Hope to see you there!!

*FAB1 charity fund will go directly to SAVE THE CHILDREN JAPAN and PLAN JAPAN

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