The Brain and Improv

I just viewed a most interesting TED Talk by Dr. Charles Limb, a surgeon and a musician who researches the way musical creativity works in the brain.  Watch this TED clip if you are fascinated by the question, what is the connection between neurological functioning and the creative process?

Dr. Limb is studying what parts of the brain are active during a creative process like improvisation versus more routine tasks completed through memorization.  Very fascinating stuff!

In the beginning of his talk, he references Keith Jarrett, a jazz pianist who is famous for improvising music.  I have been a fan of Keith Jarrett since I was a student in college.  His improvisational piano music is very inspiring and magical.  Take a listen to one of his mesmerizing pieces from his Koln Concert (about 9 minutes) in 2009.  I hope you will agree that what is going on in Keith Jarrett’s brain to accomplish such a feat must be truly amazing.

At the Center for Teaching, we have a faculty cohort of six Westminster teachers and five Drew Charter teachers who are engaged in studying the brain and learning.  They are reading the text by David Sousa, How the Brain Learns.  The group is facilitated by Jill Gough, a math teacher from Westminster, and Donya Kemp, the technology coordinator from Drew Charter School.   Most of their work has focused on what brain research is telling us about how students learn.  Cohort members have been implementing some of the Practioners Corners at the end of each chapter.   I think they are learning that teachers need to become intentional in designing lessons that tap into a student’s creative process.  Dr. Limb’s early work with the brain and improvisative should prompt educators to think seriously about how our curriculum, pedagogy, and assessments allow students to be creative and improvise with the content we expect them to learn.

Here are the questions Dr. Limb posed at the end of his talk.

Dr. Limb's questions at the end of his TED talk.


What do you think about the possibilities of Dr. Limb’s research and how we think about the 21st Century classroom?