Brainwave Learning Center
A research-practice partnership with StanforD University AND Synapse School
Building deep relationships between cognitive neuroscience researchers and the school community to explore how brain activity is transformed through learning experiences, and how those insights can, in turn, enrich education.
The Brainwave Learning Center - where everyone can explore the mysteries of the human mind and brain.
The Brainwave Learning Center (BLC) is a research-practice partnership between Stanford University and Synapse School that aims to explore how educational experiences help shape brain development.
The BLC - led by two-full time educational neuroscience researchers (see "Who We Are") - includes active promotion of the learning sciences and the science of reading, unique neuroscience learning opportunities for students at all levels, and leading-edge scientific research on the developing mind and brain. Research questions on emerging literacy, math, and executive functions are co-constructed with teachers and staff, and all research studies are conducted in our on-site “Brainwave Recording Studio,” a state-of-the-art electroencephalography (EEG) laboratory.
By working together, we can explore questions of how the learning that takes place at Synapse changes brain activity over the course of a week, over the course of a school year, and over the course of the whole journey from transitional kindergarten through middle school.
Liz Toomarian, PhD
Director of the Brainwave Learning Center
Research Associate, Stanford University
Radhika Gosavi, PhD
Associate Director, Brainwave Learning Center
Research Associate, Stanford University
Read our staff bios here
The BLC team is fully integrated into life at Synapse. From EEG research sessions to cross-disciplinary curriculum building and professional development sessions with teachers, they embody our vision to be an inspirational and aspirational model of teaching & learning.
- Middle School Research Assistants
- Roundtable Discussions with Teachers
- Curriculum Integration: Neurobiology Unit for 7/8 Grade Students
Each year, Synapse 7th and 8th grade students are invited to apply for the chance to be Middle School Research Assistants (RAs) for an entire school year. Throughout the year, RAs learn basic research methods, are trained on our EEG equipment, assist with real Stanford research, and even get a chance to design their own research study! Research projects are showcased at our annual year-end research symposium.
The BLC hosts roundtable discussions to exchange ideas about the role of neuroscience in the classroom. The first roundtable, held in 21-22, included Synapse teachers spanning grades and disciplines, Professor Elana Zion-Golumbic from the Human Brain Dynamics Lab at Bar-Ilan University in Israel (visiting professor at Stanford), and the BLC scientific team. These sessions provide a foundation for a collaborative research group investigating topics of educational neuroscience.
Our Synapse Teachers, Professor Elana Zion-Golumbic, and the BLC team at the first BLC roundtable.
The Brainwave Learning Center has an interdisciplinary approach to educational neuroscience research with an integrated neuroscience (electroencephalography- "EEG") research lab within a school. The BLC team works closely with teachers to co-create research studies and involves students as scientists during the research process. This highly collaborative model highlights practitioner voices such that ongoing research is iteratively shaped by educations and researchers alike.
A Look into our Research: The “Magic” Words Study
In this classroom-based research study, BLC researchers and practitioners (classroom teachers) collaborated to investigate the cognitive processes underlying new word learning. Learning strategies and activities were co-designed by teachers and researchers to reflect authentic teaching practices.
This first-of-its-kind research study underscores the importance of genuine cross-disciplinary dialogue -- taking into account the complexities and constraints of a rigorous scientific study and the messy classroom environment.
Integrating information from multiple senses is crucial to our ability to learn effectively. For example, in school, pre-readers begin by learning to link a written letter with its corresponding speech sound, and as reading experience grows, this letter-sound pairing ability eventually becomes automatic and effortless. In the BLC, we investigate multisensory learning in naturalistic environments, such as classrooms, and the brain responses associated with this experience.
Identifying early factors that may predict later mathematical ability and extending this investigation to brain-related factors. One area of exploration includes the development of mathematical ability in learners, with a focus on a dot enumeration (i.e., counting dots), single digit arithmetic, and double digit arithmetic.
The Brainwave Learning Center at Synapse School brings together researchers, teachers and students to gain new insights into how young learners' brains transform as they acquire new skills.
"Our students love this concept, love the idea of looking into their own brain and the patterns of learning." Jim Eagen, Head of School
Stanford researchers investigate how the brain changes with different learning experiences (Stanford Graduate School of Education)
Putting Neuroscience in the Classroom: How the Brain Changes As We Learn by Bruce McCandliss and Elizabeth Toomarian, Director of BLC
After the Fact podcast “The Future of Learning: What Do We Know About the Brain Today?” hosted by Ray Suarez, featuring the BLC
Empathy through Education by Radhika Gosavi, Associate Director of BLC
Brains are bad at big numbers, making it impossible to grasp what a million COVID-19 deaths really means by Lindsey Hasak and Elizabeth Toomarian, Director of BLC
Fang Wang, Quynh Trang H. Nguyen, Blair Kaneshiro, Lindsey Hasak, Angie M. Wang, Elizabeth Y. Toomarian, Anthony M. Norcia, and Bruce D. McCandliss (in revision). Early Detection of Sublexical and Lexical Processing in Beginning Readers: Evidence from Steady-State Visual Evoked Potentials (SSVEPs). bioRxiv 2021.12.07.471641 doi:10.1101/2021.12.07.471641
Exemplifying the Mission of the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES):
- This award recognizes Pre K-12 educators, institutions or programs demonstrating success in establishing, building and supporting infrastructure that enhances collaboration between themselves and MBE researchers for the purpose of improving educational knowledge and practice.
- IMBES seeks to honor the creators of infrastructure that models how productive collaboration can unfold in the field of Mind, Brain, and Education.