The Science of Learning Comes to Greenwich

Submitted by Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony

While this is only my third year as a member of the Greenwich Board of Education, it is my twenty-fifth in education. For a good two-thirds of that time, I had a nagging sense that I was missing something. Indeed, what surprised me most about my own teacher preparation program was that we never actually talked about how kids learn.  I assumed, wrongly, that I would learn about the mind and how it worked. I thought that my study of “education” meant the study of “how learning happens”.

Yet when I completed pre-service training in the late 90s, conversations did not focus on what happened inside students’ heads. In my particular program, the closest I got to answering this question was the concept of “practitioner inquiry”. I was told to study my own students and hypothesize what worked best. That sounded hollow to me – surely more experienced hands knew better. Eventually, I assumed that I never learned about learning because we didn’t know much about it.

Yet the truth is we actually know quite a bit about learning. The fields of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology have made great gains is understanding the science of learning. Alas, it is only much more recently that these concepts have begun to penetrate schools of education and teacher-training programs.

That is why I am so excited that the Board of Education is hosting researchEd Greenwich – a one day education conference this Saturday at Greenwich High school.

The theme of the conference is “Unleashing the Science of Learning.” Over two dozen published authors and experts are presenting — representing various facets of our understanding of how learning science can influence classroom practice.

researchEd is an international, non-profit organization dedicated to connecting educational researchers to practitioners in the field. A regular feature in Europe, Australia, and Dubai, Greenwich is the second school district in the United States to host an event. Next fall will see researchEd Delaware and researchEd Utah.

I attended the first conference last year hosted by the Frederick County Maryland School District. I was blown away by the caliber of the presentations and meaningfulness of the
content. Here indeed were the ideas missing from my own training. Finally, I was at a
conference not hearing about fads and gimmicks, but about the real science of how students learn and what that meant for daily classroom instruction.

I left thinking about how we could bring these ideas to our community. A year and a half later and after the work of many, many people, we are now on the eve of our own conference.

The caliber of speakers coming to Greenwich is world-class. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Carl Hendrick, is a professor of learning at the Academica University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam. He is the co-author of the books, “How Teaching Happens” and “How Learning Happens.”Both are summaries of the seminal works of the learning sciences.

Other speakers include Dr. Jim Heal, Dr. Hendrick’s co-author, and Tom Bennett, the founder of researchEd and national advisor to the UK on matters of student behavior. Literacy expert James Murphy and renowned authors Tom Sherrington and Haili Hughes are all also flying in from the UK. Pedro de Bruyckere, author of “The Psychology of Great Teaching,” is joining us from Belgium.

Joining them at the conference are national thought leaders such as Rober Pondiscio, Barbara Davidson, Patrice Bain, and Natalie Wexler. Kim Marshall, of the Marshall Memo, is giving the closing keynote address. While these names are likely unfamiliar, within education each is a rockstar. Google them if you do not believe me!

The conference will also showcase many of the great ideas happening here. Old Greenwich principal Dr. Jen Bencivengo and GHS teacher Joe Baske are each presenting, while Patrick Briggs is explaining how our award-winning AVID program supports targeted students to reach their potential.

This is all to say, next weekend is an extraordinary opportunity for Greenwich educators to learn from many of the titans of our field. I am certain that the ideas discussed next weekend at GHS will reverberate for years to come!

Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony, Ed.D is a member of the Greenwich Board of Education and chair of researchEd Greenwich.