A popular conference hosted by the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District and Hope College for educators seeking to enhance teaching and learning through the latest in brain research is returning for a 11th year, with activities including a full day at the Outdoor Discovery Center.

The annual "Midwest Brain and Learning Institute" is convening at the Haworth Inn and Conference Center at Hope on Monday-Wednesday, June 20-22, with a post-institute wrap-up on Thursday, June 23.  Co-sponsored by Hope, the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District and Allegan Educational Services Agency, the institute is being attended by 100 educators from districts in the area and state-wide as well as Florida and Ohio.

The institute is intended for educators who work with students of all age levels, including pre-school teachers, K-12 educators and college professors.  The event is organized particularly with educators from West Michigan in mind, but regularly draws attendees from throughout the state and beyond.  This year's institute is focusing on "Nurturing the Brain Naturally."

The program's format itself has been designed in light of neuroscience research and emphasizes the guiding principle that learners must be actively involved.  The institute's settings have been varied to include whole-group presentations, question-and-answer panels, small-group learning clubs and opportunities for informal dialogue.

For a seventh time, participants also have the option of continuing their experience beyond the on-site institute through a two-year online program that leads to a Professional Certificate in Advanced Studies in Student Learning.

Monday is focusing on system change in education.  The speaker will be Dr. Cheryl Charles, who is president, chief executive officer and co-founder of the Children and Nature Network.  She is also managing partner of Hawksong Associates, a consulting firm specializing in organizational development and diffusion of innovation, and among other publications co-authored the book "Coming Home: Community, Creativity and Consciousness."

Tuesday is examining neuroscience and learning.  The keynote speaker will be Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist who founded the National Institute for Play, where he speaks, consults and educates organizations, corporations, universities and public policy makers about the importance of play and the unexpected, serious consequences that occur when play is neglected.  His publications include the book "Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul," and he was the instigator and executive producer of the three-part PBS series "The Promise of Play."

Wednesday is exploring neuroscience implications for classroom practice.  The participants will spend the day at the Outdoor Discovery Center, a 130-acre nature preserve south of Holland that was one of the first pilot sites nationwide chosen for the Reconnecting Children to Nature Program of the Children and Nature Network.  Facilitated by the center's staff, the day will emphasize classroom applications tied to teaching-level standards that incorporate nature, play and neuroscience.

Additional presenters throughout the institute include Kimberli Boyd and Ronna Alexander.  Boyd is the chief executive officer and founding artistic director of "Dancing Between the Lines," and a nationally known dancer, performing artist and artist educator.  She will be serving as the institute's movement leader for a second year.  Alexander is a graphic recorder who visually captures the content of all the presentations for the week on large-format charts which are then digitized and provided to all attendees.  This will be her fifth year providing a visual record of the institute.

The post-institute session on Thursday, June 23, will emphasize "Taking the Institute Home."  In the morning, Jennifer Soukhome of ZeelandHigh School and Larry Fegel of Grand Valley State University will share how they have used the natural environment around their schools and in the local area to create curriculum that has proven to be successful in engaging their students and enhancing their learning.  An afternoon work session will provide a framework for developing plans in which participants can integrate the week's information into their own practice as educators.

The two-year program for a Professional Certificate in Advanced Studies in Student Learning includes 20 hours of graduate credit.  In addition to including participation in the institute for two consecutive summers, the program features a series of online courses: "Theory, Pedagogy and Learning Community"; "Introduction to Brain-Compatible Instruction in the Content Areas/Literacy"; "Advanced Studies in Assessment in the Content Areas"; "Action Research and Classroom Practice"; Advanced Studies in Literacy"; and "Advanced Studies in Research-Based Instructional Strategies."

More information about the institute may be obtained online at http://braininstitute.org/