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The ABCs of How We Learn

“Thank you so much for putting this on. Are you planning to have more events like this?”

That was the reaction from attendees of an October 25 educational forum at Prospect High School featuring Campbell Union High School District (CUHSD) Superintendent Robert Bravo in conversation with Stanford Professor Daniel Schwartz, author of The ABCs of How We Learn.

The forum provided an opportunity for educators, parents, students, and members of the local community to learn about different approaches to learning and instruction from Schwartz, dean of Stanford University's Graduate School of Education.

“There’s so much to learn in life, and we all want to get better as we go along regardless of whether or not we’re still in school,” said Bravo. “I’m all about what can we do just to spread knowledge, and I’m glad that some of you decided to come in.”

Among the concepts Bravo discussed with Schwartz were the costs and benefits of different instructional strategies.

“The human mind has lots of learning systems,” said Schwartz, “but some of these learning systems have too strong an appetite, and they'll interfere with other ones.”

He cited the reward-reinforcement model as an example.

“Reinforcement is very good when you can't explain why,” said Schwartz. “Your dog's reinforcement works, because you can't reason with him, so where reason fails, reinforcement works. . .but it turns out if someone's already motivated to do something, and then you reward them for doing it, you undermine their original motivation.”

Bravo said it was interesting that certain educational approaches were associated with certain risks.

“It sounds like if my son displays some interest in something and seems to be getting his own enjoyment out of it, and I start to get excited, because I want him to be interested in that, I shouldn't reward him thinking that's going to double his interest. It actually could backfire.”

“That's right,” said Schwartz.

Many parents who attended the forum were curious about how the concepts being discussed applied to their sons and daughters, and they participated in a lively question and answer session toward the end of the program.

“For those of you who are in your head thinking “I really want to ask a question, but I don't want to say my son or daughter,’ so what you do is you say I have a question about my friend's son or daughter,” joked Bravo.

The ABCs of How We Learn is based on a popular Stanford University educational course, which is an extension of Schwartz’s academic focus to create improved learning environments by finding ways to use educational technology in support of the latest research on human cognition.

Campbell Union High School District prepares high school and adult education students for democratic citizenship and success in college and career through a rigorous curriculum and a rich and comprehensive extracurricular program.