Book review: In the Middle by Dr Michael Nagel

One of the most interesting trends in pedagogy in the last decade or so has been the increased interest in cognitive neuroscience and its implications for classroom practice. Neuroeducation is the term used by those in the know to describe how neuroscience is being used to inform our knowledge about how students learn. While a small number of neuroscientists and educators began collaborating in the 1960s, now there is widespread interest in applying psychological research to educational practice. This trend is ‘interesting’ because while many teachers claim to be interested in the field and/or applying the latest research in the classrooms, there is still a very wide gap between the cognitive neuroscience of the laboratory and the ‘brain-based-learning’ techniques that are used in most classrooms.

Dr Michael Nagel has the unique experience of having been an educator, a parent, an associate professor specialising in cognitive development and a leading expert on child development. He is therefore very well positioned to provide parents and teachers with the real deal on neuroeducation. Nagel’s book, In the Middle, provides a comprehensive and pertinent overview of findings in cognitive neuroscience as they relate specifically to the developing adolescent brain. The book covers the technical aspects of the developing brain (including neural structures, brain chemicals and development of the frontal lobes), the role of emotions, the social aspects of the brain and the adolescent brain inside and outside of the school context. Nagel has broken a complex body of research and knowledge into highly useful chunks, keeping the practical implications at the forefront of his work.

Nagel suggests that educational practice can be seen as a form of applied cognitive neuroscience, given the relationships between teaching, learning and the brain; however, he cautions that transferring the complex area of neuroscience to the classroom can be difficult. For example, attempts to synthesise a complex body of knowledge into practical classroom implications can result in misreading of the science. In addition, the science can be misrepresented to suit particular agendas. Nagel assists educators and parents to avoid the perpetuation of misconceptions and myths about the links between neuroscience and education that can arise when the scientific evidence is not fully examined.

This book can help educators with a passion for neuroeducation to gain practical, evidence-based ideas for how to really make the most of science’s knowledge of the ways in which the adolescent brain functions and develops, in order to improve their teaching practice and the learning experiences of their students.


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