Two boys, Nico and Brooke, each suffered the removal of an entire brain hemisphere (Nico his right and Brooke his left) to control severe epilepsy — yet these boys became high-functioning young adults, finishing high school and entering college. Dr. Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang is an expert on educational neuroscience and Assistant Professor of Education and Psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the USC Rossier School of Education. She asks an intriguing question: “How are these boys compensating?”

Dr. Immordino-Yang’s research seeks to understand how learning experiences shape children’s brains and cognitive development. Experts are coming to see brain development as an active, dynamic process. A learner’s approach to problem solving may actually organize his or her brain over time — and conversely, a learner’s particular neuropsychological strengths may shape his or her problem-solving approach. The two boys Dr. Immordino-Yang studied were able to develop skills that standard neuropsychological wisdom would not have predicted them to acquire, given their brain damage. Each young man appears to have mustered together solutions to “unsolvable” problems — leaving them with unexpected and remarkable strengths and abilities. They are capitalizing on their remaining strengths, doing things well, but differently from other people. This has broader implications for education, explains Dr. Immordino-Yang:

“Educators might think seriously about the problems they put to their students and the various neuropsychological ways that these problems could actually be interpreted and processed. What we intend as a simple math exercise, for example, could in essence be a verbal problem to one child, a spatial problem to another, and even an affective or social problem to a third, who may be thinking of the emotional implications of, say, the solution to a mathematics word problem.”

Dr. Immordino-Yang will speak at our TEDxManhattanBeach conference in October 2011. We invite you to come hear her in person!


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