Friday, June 10, 2011

A Day in the Cosmos

I spent yesterday at the intersection of Mind, Brain and Education -- and the cosmos -- when I visited with Dr. Matthew Schneps at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. An astrophysicist, Dr. Schneps is the Director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Center, which combines the resources and research facilities of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Dr. Schneps is actively involved in dyslexia research and has asked me to serve on the Advisory Board for a research project which is looking at novel ways to deliver written material to children with dyslexia.

During my visit I was also interviewed on camera for another project, funded by the Annenberg Foundation, which is looking to create web-based materials to make information about neuroscience and learning accessible -- and practical -- for educators. Dr. Schneps is particularly interested in emerging evidence that perceptual variations associated with “learning disabilities” are actually advantageous. For example, it turns out that many of the world’s most accomplished astrophysicists have dyslexia. Dyslexia is frequently associated with an increased ability to perceive information in the peripheral visual fields -- which is advantageous when examining the cosmos. Dr. Schneps also introduced me to a brilliant and resilient astrophysicist who began losing her sight as a graduate student -- and now studies the universe using sound.

After my meeting with Dr. Schneps, I finished the day at a Board of Directors meeting for CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology). CAST continues to amaze all of its Board members with its continued progress in leading the field of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). With technology and an understanding of the wide range of normal variation in children, CAST continues to create tools to make academic material accessible to all learners. If you haven’t heard of CAST and UDL, you will soon. CAST is increasingly sought out by policy makers, foundations, and educators interested in bringing these groundbreaking ideas and technologies to schools and school districts.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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