Research Thought Leader
Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D.
Founder and Chief Director, Center for BrainHealth, University of Texas at Dallas
The Collaborative’s Research Thought Leaders help provide the strong research foundation upon which the Collaborative’s work rests. Each Thought Leader is nationally and internationally recognized in his/her own field and brings an extensive depth of experience and expertise. They also are adept at working across disciplines.
A Thought Leader will be featured in each of the upcoming Collaborative newsletters. We begin with Sandi Chapman, whose work in neuroscience helps underpin the work of the Collaborative. In a conversation with Lucinda Presley, Collaborative Chair, the two talked about Sandi’s work and its importance to the Collaborative.
Lucinda: What is the mission of the Center for BrainHealth and what are its contributions to society?
Sandi: The Center’s mission is to help people maximize their brain potential, their cognitive abilities and their overall performance. To do that, we have 120+ researchers and clinicians from the following fields: cognitive neuroscientists, psychologists, biostatisticians, medical staff, brain imagers, neuro-engineers, teachers, speech-language pathologists, and computer-gaming designers who develop technology-based eLearning platforms. These experts focus on discovering ways to strengthen the brain’s systems’ broad-based thinking networks and expand cognitive capacities to promote real-life functionality. Our team is interested in how the brain best learns and works efficiently to stay energized. This helps people face and solve the complexities of the world around them. We uniquely focus on how to empower individuals to harness their brain’s potential – by taking it to the next level of performance. The double win is that individuals, whether gifted or those who struggle with some disability, are able to increase functionality.
Lucinda: What is your individual research focus?
Sandi: I work across the lifespan to help people inoculate the brain against cognitive decline, making each day for that person better than the day before. This work also helps people rebound when the brain has had insults from such factors as poverty, depression, chemotherapy, anesthesia, brain trauma, sleep problems and drug or medication effects, to mention a few.
Lucinda: How does your research align with the Collaborative's work?
Sandi: The work of the Collaborative immensely inspires me to work even harder. The Collaborative is promoting innovation thinking in real life contexts. Innovative cognition is the most powerful function of the human brain. Our brain was designed to create new knowledge – not just be a vast fact storage-retrieval machine. Innovative cognition is the driver of brain health, not just for the brain’s neurotransmitters, but also for strengthening the cognitive system. Innovative thinking builds a more engaged brain. When we innovate, the brain can increase the production of dopamine, the “happy drug” as well as norepinephrine, the “faster learning drug”. Increasing student innovation thinking capacity will help them to solve the complexity of problems they face, even ones that that don’t yet exist today. Innovative thinking is important in all types of theaters, from sciences, technology, engineering and math to the arts and humanities. The Collaborative’s focus on higher-level reasoning to maximize our students’ potential better prepares them for college and the workplace. To improve the well-being of our society, we must introduce innovative cognition starting in youth to build lifelong desire for ingenuity.
Lucinda: What have you discovered in your research that points to the importance of the Collaborative's work?
Sandi: We have been able to show a major impact of learning performance across all content areas when we teach students how to learn, not what to learn. We train them to aggregate information across learning domains to create new ideas that they can apply to their own lives. This dynamic mental exercise engages students to become deeper-level thinkers, which serves to enhance the brain’s frontal networks and help with the brain’s executive function and problem-solving performance. Deeper level thinking is the power exercise that strengthens the brain’s most important networks to support agile and adept thinking in this rapidly changing world. In short, this mental training serves to build a futuristic brain.
This is what the Collaborative is dedicated to: elevating abilities to aggregate knowledge across disciplines to innovate and create new ideas, solutions and broad-based perspectives. We must teach students to generate new understandings and applications of knowledge and innovate instead of just spitting back the knowledge they are given.
Lucinda: How do you see the Thought Leaders and the Collaborative benefitting from their work together?
Sandi: The Thought Leaders benefit from the Collaborative because we learn practical applications and new directions for our research. This makes our research more meaningful, since it’s driven by practical application in classrooms. Science without application is unproductive. The Collaborative provides us insight into the hurdles and opportunities in the educational setting. We, in turn, help the Collaborative develop new ways of understanding the potential of the human brain and how it best learns. We need to know what constitutes innovative thinking and problem-solving and what optimizes learning in the young brain. The Collaborative is helping develop that metaview. It has inspired me to (1) expand assessments of both higher order reasoning and innovative cognition to measure gains from the multitude of educational practices and (2) to advance classroom teaching-learning with a guide of cognitive strategies to hone these valuable cognitive capacities..
Lucinda: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Sandi: When I think about our students, I realize that health starts and ends with brain health. For example, factors such as stress and poor sleep have a significant impact on humans’ brain health. What is the learning environment in our classrooms – does it empower student learning or cause it to self-destruct? We, at the Center for BrainHealth, are dedicated to working with the Collaborative to build teaching and learning environments in classrooms and corporations that empower individuals to embrace with confidence the control they have to harness their unlimited potential to increase their brain performance.
The Collaborative extends deepest gratitude to Sandi Chapman and to all of the Thought Leaders for their enthusiastic support of the Collaborative and its work.
For more information on Dr. Chapman’s work, go to
First-Ever SMART Think Tank for Adolescents and Link to the Frontiers article for Adolescent Reasoning
Thanks to generous NEA funding, the Innovation Collaborative convened in person its mentors, the Research Thought Leaders. The in-person convening was held in Washington, DC, the Collaborative’s home base, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). They also meet virtually to continue their work with the Collaborative.
The Thought Leaders involved in this work are: James Catterall, PhD – arts (deceased August, 2017); Hubert Dyasi, PhD – science; Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, PhD – humanities; Bob Root-Bernstein; PhD – arts-sciences; Bonnie Cramond, PhD – creativity; and Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD – neuroscience.
At the DC convening, each Thought Leader shared with Collaborative Board members their research that directly impacts the Collaborative’s work. They also learned in depth about the Collaborative’s research and worked collaboratively to develop recommendations for deepening and expanding the Collaboratives research initiatives and its framework. These discussions were inspired by NMWA gallery activities, virtual presentations by Collaborative model teachers in the K-12 Effective Practices project and by an evening networking event with stakeholders.
An important finding from this project was that a convening such as this offers rich and valuable opportunities to learn not only from individual Thought Leader input but also from their extended conversations among themselves. Additionally, the Collaborative learned that extended exposure to these meetings and concepts over time generates the most positive outcomes.
The Innovation Collaborative Policy Committee has adopted its first policy agenda, which helps inform the Collaborative’s work. This policy agenda focuses on the shared priorities and beliefs among member organizations of the Innovation Collaborative.
The Policy Committee includes Kathi R. Levin, co-chair (NAEA), Jonathan Katz, co-chair (Strategic Advisor), Jeff Allen (Federation of State Humanities Councils), Elyse Eidman-Aadahl (National Writing Project), Juliana Texley (National Science Teachers Association), and Lucinda Presley, Collaborative Chair. The topics covered in the Policy Agenda were developed following a year’s worth of polling and discussion about how the organizations involved with the Collaborative are engaged in furthering policies supportive of their field.
There are many policies supportive of interdisciplinary learning and collaboration within Section 4107 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Policy Committee has helped the Collaborative Board and Advisory Committee become familiar with opportunities for furthering the Collaborative’s shared policy agenda within the parameters of ESSA implementation.
The following agreed-upon policy agenda statements detail the shared beliefs among individuals, organizations, and institutions of the Innovation Collaborative regarding the importance of the arts, STEM, and humanities intersections in teaching and learning:
Equity and Access: All students/learners should have equal access to high-quality, standards-based interdisciplinary learning across disciplines in the arts, STEM, and the humanities.
Professional Development: All educators should have ongoing professional development in interdisciplinary learning.
Planning Time: All educators should have sufficient planning time in order to support collaboration in planning, implementing, and evaluating these teaching and learning experiences.
Collaborations and Partnerships: Collaborations and Partnerships between schools, non-profit organizations, higher education, corporations, and other resources support opportunities for outcomes-based, collaborative learning, creative problem solving, and innovation.
Workforce Thinking Skills: All students/learners should have access to programs which support the development of workforce thinking skills and the 4c’s (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity) at these interdisciplinary intersections, enabling them to succeed in the 21st century workplace.
Resource Allocation: Programs which support interdisciplinary learning across the disciplines in the arts, STEM, and the humanities have appropriate capacity to meet program goals and achieve successful outcomes including facilities, equipment, and resources
Lifelong Learning: Programs which support interdisciplinary learning across the disciplines in the arts, STEM, and the humanities share a fundamental belief in lifelong learning.
Citizen and Civic Engagement: Programs which support interdisciplinary learning across the disciplines in the arts, STEM, and the humanities identify ways to engage individuals throughout their communities in their work.
Next steps for the Innovation Collaborative Policy Committee focus on developing a plan for the Innovation Collaborative to utilize the policy agenda over the next year in a variety of contexts. The committee will also provide suggestions for how individuals and organizations affiliated with the Collaborative can make use of the agenda in their work at the local, state, and national levels.
The Collaborative is conducting a multi-year national research project to determine the most effective practices that promote vital workforce-related creative and innovative thinking skills at the intersections of the arts, STEM and the humanities (STEAM) in K-12 learning settings. This research is a broad national effort to begin developing a framework to provide a strong underpinning for the growing STEAM movement.
The Collaborative’s research includes classroom and teacher professional development studies, in addition to the development of educational materials. This project is aligned with the research being done by the Collaborative’s out-of-school-time research project, which represents museums, after-school programs and other out-of-school-time learning settings.
The K-12 Effective Practices Classroom Study Research Project is in its 4th phase. The K-12 classroom project first piloted its effective practices criteria and submissions process in 2015-16. At that time, 10 teachers whose submissions most effectively promoted the creative and innovative thinking skills were chosen as Innovation Fellows as part of the first round of research. The Fellows are now part of the Innovation Collaborative's planning team. Other Innovation Fellows will be chosen as the project progresses.
These first Innovation Fellows are:
Kerry Buchman, Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles;
Ian Fogarty, Riverview High School, New Brunswick, Canada;
Ashley Lupfer, Rockingham Middle School, Richmond, NC;
Kimberly Olson, Centre School, Hampton, NH;
Ana Rozzi, Oregon Episcopal School, Portland, OR;
Juli Salzman, Northside Elementary, Angleton, TX;
Marica Shannon, Mitchell High School, Mitchell, SD;
Kathleen Sweet, Starmont Elementary, Arlington, IA;
Kristin Taylor, Sylmar Leadership Academy, Los Angeles.
During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years, each Fellow, along with other selected teachers, conducted classroom implementation of other Fellows’ lessons and one of their own lessons to further develop a STEAM effective practices rubric and criteria that will be usable in classrooms. This classroom study is continuing in the 2018-19 school year. It is being conducted in concert with the NEA-funded teacher professional development study. Significant findings will be released.
The classroom study, inspired by the input of the Collaborative’s Research Thought Leaders, is led by Collaborative Board member Hope Wilson, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Interim Director of Assessment, College of Education and Human Services, University of North Florida. Dr. Wilson also is Chair of the National Association for Gifted Children, Research and Evaluation Network. Also leading the K-12 Project is Board member Amanda Upton, Manager, Nominations and Teacher Awards, National Science Teachers Association. They are joined by Collaborative Executive Director Lucinda Presley an extensive team of expert advisors from universities, and schools, in addition to the Innovation Fellows.
Collaborative Founding Chair and Executive Director Lucinda Presley was recently presented the Adjunct Excellence in Teaching award (Adjunct Professor of the Year) by the college where she has taught part-time for 18 years. The college, Tyler Junior College, is one of the largest community colleges in Texas with an enrollment of 12,000 credit students and 20,000 continuing education students. Ms. Presley teaches art appreciation to 60-90 college and high school early college students per semester. She has been using these classes as an additional way to study the effectiveness of the Collaborative’s criteria in getting students to think creatively and innovatively.
The Collaborative newsletter Managing Editor Juliana Texley interviewed Ms. Presley about this award and its relevance to the Collaborative.
1. You’ve been honored as a great instructor. How does it relate to the Innovation Collaborative? This Adjunct Faculty Teaching Excellence Award recognizes that getting students to think in addition to learn is important. The thinking skills the college promotes, such as analysis, problem-solving, collaboration and communication, dovetail with those of the Innovation Collaborative. We must help students of all ages realize that these thinking skills will help not only with learning required information but also with their daily lives. When I integrate thinking skills, my college students become much better at learning the required content. Since they are analyzing the material better than before, they also can apply their information to solve problems more effectively. Since I’ve been using these skills, I’ve seen a marked increase in my college students’ engagement and use of the required concepts and information in ways that transfer from project to project. Students also report that these skills are helping in their daily lives. To accomplish this, throughout the semester, students are integrating supportive Collaborative concepts such as working in a team, observing with deep visual analysis, investigating by changing perspectives, comparing and contrasting and then synthesizing information. They also are analyzing the pertinent information and communicating their evidence-based conclusions as a group. These are new skills for many students, but it’s gratifying to see their growth by the end of the semester.
2. Tell us how you came to the Collaborative at this point in your career. I began with an interdisciplinary Masters’ degree in art, history, literature and science. Working at an art museum, I integrated the sciences with art for K-12 classrooms for a number of years. I then was recruited to a science museum, where I integrated arts with science for K-12.
Since then, I’ve been working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab for many years, taking their out-of-school Imagine Mars arts/science program into K-12 education. I’ve also been working on the STEAM education portion of the Philip Beesley Canadian Living Architecture project. I set up the education and program departments for the new Leonardo arts/science museum in Salt Lake City. I also have been doing STEAM K-12 teacher professional development in different locations for many years, including for the Texas Education Agency and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. At the same time, I’ve been integrating science and arts thinking in the college classes I teach. So, I was able to apply what I had learned from these many experiences in STEAM teaching, curriculum-writing, teacher professional development and programming in a variety of learning settings when I was invited to be a part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) - funded SEAD (Sciences, Engineering, Arts, Design) project.
How did the Innovation Collaborative begin?
The Innovation Collaborative is an outcome of NSF - funded SEAD (Sciences, Engineering, Arts, Design) project. I was a chair of the SEAD Learning and Education team. When the grant was completed, my team and I received permission to take the important SEAD work into K-12 and out-of-school settings through founding the Innovation Collaborative. Members of the original SEAD project still are an important part of the Collaborative and we continue to dovetail with their impressive work.
What are the Innovation Collaborative’s goals?
Our goal is to help develop the important workforce skills of creative and innovative thinking. We do this through helping educators and students learn to think creatively and innovatively as they interact with content. Everyone needs these thinking skills in life. This became apparent in my work with my college students. So, we work to enrich STEM, arts and humanities educators’ abilities to collaborate and teach across disciplines using a common language and common processes. This can be accomplished through professional development where educators see that, though sciences, arts and humanities educators bring their own perspectives to learning, these educators use many of the same process skills.
The Innovation Collaborative also is helping develop a deep and firm research base for the STEAM movement. With a sound basis in research-based data, the movement becomes sustainable and not just a passing fad. Policymakers and stakeholders also will need this data.
3. Where does the Collaborative go from here? We have been focused on identifying effective practices at the arts/sciences/humanities intersections in K-12. We now are taking what we’ve learned from identifying top lessons and studying them in K-12 classrooms into out-of-school-time settings, teacher professional development and curriculum development. We will make the tools that arise from these studies widely available. The Collaborative also will continue to develop effective collaboration across disciplines, institutions and learning settings and to use our data to advocate for the importance of this STEAM approach.